I took up cycling while I was a student, after a friend’s father lent me a racing bike. I didn’t really plan to be any good at it – I had been a rower, and when pressure of time forced me to give that up, the only thing I wanted from a hobby was that it didn’t involve hours of waiting for the rest of a team to get out of bed and amble to the boathouse. I just wanted to do something to stop me getting fat, and I didn’t want it to take all day.
All the same, it turned out that I was good at it, and particularly the discipline of time-trial riding. I ended up abandoning an academic career, which I wasn’t enjoying much anyway, to become a full-time bike rider. (My parents were about as impressed with this switch as you would expect.)
Over the next few years I gathered up more than thirty national titles of one description or another, almost all in time-trial events. Among them I won the national 10-mile title six times, the 25-mile twice, and the 50-mile title nine times. I won the National Time Trial Championships – the UK event with the most international recognition – three times. I won the 12-hour championships twice, with distances around the 290 mile mark. And at the other end of the distance scale, I even won the 4000m individual pursuit title on the track, back in 2002.
Internationally – well, that wasn’t so brilliant. I competed in one of the last editions of the Grand Prix de Nations, for many years the most significant time-trial race in the world, but finished something like 22nd. At the time I thought that that wasn’t too bad, given the quality of the opposition (and some of their medical support budgets), but given all the recent British cycling success, I’ve had to concede that actually it wasn’t fantastic.
I raced in the Commonwealth Games of 2002 and 2006. The highlight of that was a 4th place in the road time-trial in 2006. Many of my friends, in an attempt to annoy me, said that 4th was the worst place to finish. I still say it’s better than 5th.
I also attacked the world hour record on two occasions – significant because it led to my book The Hour, an account of the record, its history, and what was involved attacking it. It got some very generous reviews, several of which I’ve modestly quoted on the books page.
In 2005 I became probably the least eminent person ever to be awarded the F.T. Bidlake plaque, in recognition of my racing achievements. I think maybe the committee were trying to suggest it was time I retired, but I’m still racing, even if I don’t really have as much time to train as I would like.
As you’d expect for a writer who’s also a cyclist, I write about cycling; I have a column in Cycling Weekly.
I’m willing to speak at club dinners and that kind of thing – you can contact me at [email]