105-year-old Frenchman cycles into history with hour-long ride

A French centenarian, Robert Marchand, made cycling history on Wednesday by covering 22.528 km (14.08 miles) in one hour on a track near Paris at the age of 105.

Marchand has a huge following in France and was cheered on by hundreds of fans as he rode round the velodrome at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, clad in yellow and blue with the number 105 on his back.

However, he fell short of his own previous best of 26.927 km in the over-100s category, which he set in 2014 at the age of 102 years old.

Marchand, a tiny, bird-like figure, beamed at his success after his one-man race was over, telling journalists he could have done better.

"I didn't see the notice telling me I had 10 minutes left," he said. "If I had, I would have been a bit quicker. I would have done better."

He said he would celebrate by having "a bite to eat with all my pals."

He was philosophical when asked if he would turn out again on the track in two years time. "You are nine months in the making. But it takes you only 30 seconds to drop dead," he said.

Born in 1911 in northern France, Marchand started riding a bike when he was 14 but only took up cycling seriously when he was 67.

He trained for six months for his performance on Wednesday.

In 2012, when he was 100, he set a record for his age of covering 100 kms in four hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds.

© REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

105-year-old Robert Marchand sets cycling record

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France (AP) — Nearly a century ago, Robert Marchand was told by a coach that he should give up cycling because he would never achieve anything on a bike.

He proved that prediction wrong again on Wednesday.

In a skin-tight yellow and violet jersey, the 105-year-old Frenchman set a world record in the 105-plus age category -- created especially for the tireless veteran -- by riding 22.547 kilometers in one hour.

Marchand had ridden faster in the past on the boards of the Velodrome National, a state of the art venue used to host the elite of track cycling. But he had warned before his latest attempt that his current form was not as good.

"I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left," Marchand said after his effort. "Otherwise I would have gone faster, I would have posted a better time. I'm now waiting for a rival."

Three years ago at the same venue, Marchand covered 26.927 kilometers in one hour to better his own world record in the over-100s category.

Still, impressed fans and chanted "Robert, Robert" during the last minutes of his ride. Marchand received a standing ovation once he completed the last of his 92 laps and was then mobbed by dozens of cameramen and TV crews.

"He could have been faster but he made a big mistake. He has stopped eating meat over the past month after being shocked by recent reports on how animals are subjected to cruel treatment," Marchand's physiologist, Veronique Billat, told The Associated Press.

By way of comparison, the current overall world record for one hour is 54.526 kilometers (miles) set by British rider Bradley Wiggins in 2015. But Wiggins, who smashed the previous record using the world's leading track cycling equipment, is now retired.

Marchand, who lives in a small flat in a Parisian suburb with a meager pension of about 900 euros ($940), keeps pedaling and stretching every day. As if time had no effect on him.

"He's got two essential qualities. A big heart that pumps a lot of blood, and he can reach high heart beat values that are exceptional for his age," said Billat, a university professor. "If he starts eating meat again and builds more muscle, he can better this mark."

Marchand, a former firefighter who was born in 1911 in the northern town of Amiens, has lived through two world wars. He led an eventful life that took him to Venezuela, where he worked as a truck driver near the end of the 1940s. He then moved to Canada and became a lumberjack for a while.

Back in France in the 1960s, Marchand made a living through various jobs that left him with no time to practice sports.

He finally took up his bike again when he was 68 years old and began a series of cycling feats.

The diminutive Marchand — he is 1.52 meters (5-foot) tall and weighs 52 kilograms (115 pounds) — rode from Bordeaux to Paris, and Paris to Roubaix several times. He also cycled to Moscow from Paris in 1992.

Ten years later, he set the record for someone over the age of 100 riding 100 kilometers (62 miles).

"If the president of his teenage club who told him he was not made for cycling because he was too small could see him today, he would kick himself," Marchand's coach and good friend Gerard Mistler told the AP.

According to Mistler, the secret behind Marchand's longevity relates to his healthy lifestyle: eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, no smoking, just the occasional glass of wine and exercising on a daily basis.

"He never pushed his limits, goes to bed at 9 p.m. and wakes up at 6 a.m., there's no other secret," Mistler said. "If had been doping, he would not be there anymore."

To stay fit, Marchand rides every day on his home trainer and puts himself through outdoor training sessions on the road when the weather is good enough.

"One needs to keep his muscles working," said Marchand, a faithful reader of communist newspaper L'Humanite.

"Reading a lot keeps his mind alert," Mistler said. "He does not watch much TV, apart from the Tour de France stages."

At 105, Marchand is not making plans for the future. His coach would not be surprised to see him back on the boards, though.

"Setting goals for himself is part of his personality," Mistler said. "If he tells me he wants to improve his record, I'll be game. Robert is a great example for all of us."


Robert Marchand: Cyclist, 105, sets new distance record

He might be 105 years old but there's just no stopping Frenchman Robert Marchand in his pursuit of new cycling records.

The centenarian cyclist, who became vegetarian a month ago, pedaled 22.547 kilometers (14 miles) in 60 minutes at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome outside Paris Wednesday.His distance fell short of the 26.927 kilometers (16.73 miles) he managed in 2014, but is still a new record in the 105-and-above category.

"I didn't see the sign for the last 10 minutes, otherwise I could have gone faster," Marchand told BFMTV.
Britain's Sir Bradley Wiggins holds the outright mile record with a distance of 54.526km (33.88 miles).

Big heart
Marchand, who was persuaded by doctors to take up meat again for the challenge, is 1.50 meters tall and weighs just 50 kilograms but makes up for his slight frame with exceptional physiology.

"He is very small but his heart is very big," Professor Veronique Billat, who is a physiologist, told CNN Sport.

"His V02 max oxygen consumption is the same as a man of half his age who doesn't do any sports," added Billat, referring to the measure of oxygen uptake.

"So he has a great oxygen consumption thanks to an exceptional heart."

Marchand lives alone in his Parisian studio flat but is sustained by "optimism" as well as "laughter" and "many friends," according to Billat, whose team has been studying the cyclist's efforts since he turned 100.

He was born in 1911 and was a keen cyclist until the age of 22 when his coach told him he would not become a champion because of his size.

He undertook many active jobs during his long life, including as a firefighter, a gardener and a lumberjack in Canada, and only took up cycling again at the age of 75.

"His life is very simple," says Billat.

Secret to success
The 105-year-old begins each day with 10 minutes of calisthenic exercises and a cycling session on his indoor bike before breakfast of a banana and strawberries with yoghurt and a cup of green tea with sugar.

He reads the newspaper every day -- he is very interested in politics -- and devours books on sport and nutrition.
He goes to the market every day to buy vegetables before cooking his own lunch. Once a week he will allow himself a glass of red wine.

Four times a week he also cycles outdoors for an hour with friends. "That's the secret, he's not alone," adds Billat.

One of the biggest challenges for the record attempt was choosing the optimal gear to cycle in.

The team settled on a gearing that would enable him to cycle at 65 revolutions per minute, delivering 5.94 meters per turn of the pedals. That equates to 23.166km in one hour, slightly more than Marchand achieved in the end.

Speaking before his attempt, he said: "I'm not here to break any record. I'm doing it to prove that at 105 years old you can still ride a bike."

As French cycling fans would say to riders in the Tour de France -- "Chapeau!"

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