Sunday, 17 October 2010

Age of Speed

Old men riding fast bicycles have always presented a problem to those who try to judge who among them is relatively the fastest and who the slowest; hence the invention of veteran standards. Based on past rides by people of varying ages over selected set distances – 10 miles, 25 miles 50 miles – ride-time expectations (or standards) for different age groups over these distances based on ancient averages are engraved somewhere in the annals of the Veteran Time Trials Association. For this purpose, as we all know, a cycling veteran is defined as someone who is aged forty years or more. According to veteran standards, a 55-year-old male undertaking a 15-mile time trial would be expected to complete it in 42 min 57 sec. A veteran rider’s intrinsic performance is gauged by the actual time he takes for the ride compared to his standard for that ride. Current standards for a 15-mile time trial range from 38:15 for a 40-year-old to 49:33 for a 73-year-old. This range of temporal targets was gleefully accepted by three fearless and probably foolhardy Thornton RC competitors in the VTTA (Kent) 15-mile time trial of 10 October, held on the Q15/20 course (i.e. from Leeds Castle southeast to Charing roundabout on the A20 and back). They were Gordon Davis, Russ Mason and Eric Bates.
Warm dry weather prevailed during the ride with a slightly favourable east to southeast wind spurring riders through the whole of the return ride. Russ Mason did the best time in the Thornton group, at 43:47, Eric Bates the second best (44:41), and Gordon Davis was third (at 1:12:19 before adding a 4 min 20 sec penalty for a late start). Judged by improvement over veteran standard however, Eric Bates was first (at +4:52), Russ Mason was second (at +1:16) and Gordon Davis the third (at minus 22:46).
For numerophiles and other crackpots with a predilection for numbers and their relationships, the start-sheet for the October.
2010 ride innovatively gave the ages of all veteran riders, which presented an irresistible opportunity to feed a numbers’ habit. There were 58 riders on the start sheet, including a single tandem pair (male) to which a second was added on the day. After deducting the non-starters, and not counting the tandem riders, there were 32 male veterans, 7 female veterans, 5 male juniors, 5 male seniors, and 1 female senior. The average age of male veterans was 54.7 years, and of female veterans, 50.9 years. Male veterans’ average time was 39:52, and that of female veterans 45:08. Among the female veterans was the distinguished Carole Gandy, whose time of 37:09 showed an improvement over standard of an astounding 12:48, a performance exceeded by only one male veteran, namely seventy-two year old Peter Crofts of Southborough and District Wheelers, who achieved an improvement over standard of 13:10. Compare that with the average male veteran’s improvement over standard of 3:09. However, the fastest veteran rider on absolute time, at 32:54, was forty-seven year-old Dave Dent of Wightlink. He was only 3 seconds slower that the fastest rider overall - the non-veteran Seth Kay of Datastream Allstars.
And of course the combined numerical data provided by the start sheet and the results sheet, when subject to statistical analysis, show a consistent, distinct, and quantifiable positive correlation between age and actual ride-time, meaning that as we grow older we grow slower (by about 20 seconds per year-of-age over 15 miles). But there’s no surprise there. There was something numerically revelatory in this year’s ride however – no one was given the number 13 in the start sheet. Was this a case of grey-haired veterans’ enlightened irrationality pre-empting unseeing reason?
Eric Bates