Robert Marchand: Cyclist, 105, sets new distance record

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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.

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!”

By Rob Hodgetts