This article was originally published in the Friday June 4th 2009 edition of the Lake Tahoe paper, the Sierra Sun.
One of the most beautiful aspects of cycling is that you are never too old to participate, and even compete at a very high level. Sure, the window where one might compete as a professional is realistically the 20s through mid-30s — Lance Armstrong just took 12th in the Giro d’Italia at the age of 37 — but compared to other extremely active sports, you don’t necessarily have the same restrictions.
I’m in my late 30s and starting to feel the effects and more random aches and pains than in my 20s. But I look around me and am inspired to know that if I want to, I can keep riding and racing at a very high level for 10 to 20 years, and even longer.
I could even stop racing, and start again in 10 years. By contrast, I don’t think my window-to-nail big lines at Squaw or Alaska or in the backcountry are nearly as large.
Meanwhile, guys 10 to 20 years older than me are crushing it on my team and in the “local peleton.” I’ve been racing less than a year, and when I started my mindset was along the lines of, “I need to try this before I’m 40 because then I’ll be too old to be any good.”
Right. Maybe if I keep improving I can be as good as the 40-somethings when I get there!
Why is this? Well, the most obvious answer is that cycling is less jarring and physiologically demanding on your body. Sure, you’ll lose some strength as you age, but it’s not like an NBA player who loses his hops or an NFL player who loses half a step and then, bam, the window is slammed shut.
You don’t need a young back and knees to stick 50-foot airs in cycling or bounce back from violent crashes or collisions (well, sometimes the crashes!).
I also think in amateur cycling age can be an ally. Years of endurance training can start to make up for the lost explosiveness and top-end power. And, the structure and experience that comes from decades in the “real world” pays off. My nutrition, sleep and time management are all far more advanced and well suited to a training regimen than in my 20s.
I may not race for 20-plus more years — or even five more years. But it is awesome to know that I can. And even better to know that I can ride with my kids, wife, parents, friends, siblings (grandkids someday?) — in theory for as long as we all stay in at least reasonable condition.
Will I ever climb and ski big mountains with my wife and/or my kids (ages 3 and 1)? Probably not. Can we dream about and plan on big European cross-generational cycling vacations from now until the sun goes down on us? Yes! Beautiful.
Team rider Andy Scott is the author of this week’s Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing column. Cyclepaths/Wild Cherries Racing (www.cwcracing.org) is a Truckee-based cycling team focused on racing and local bike advocacy.