French cyclist sets the pace -- at 105

Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines : Robert Marchand is chasing another world record when he jumps on his bike to compete in the senior hour endurance on Wednesday.

Make that uber-senior -- for, while still sprightly, the Frenchman is 105years old and racing in a category all of his own.

Three years ago he managed to ride 26.927 kilometres (nearly 17 miles) at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome outside Paris, a record for someone aged over 100.

He says surpassing that distance inside an hour will be tough but he's determined to give it a go, even if the modest centenarian insists: "I'm not in such good shape as I was a couple of years back.

"If I were, I'd be a phenomenon, and I'm not."

Admirers contest that assessment as he finalises preparations for the challenge, his gaze alert, his gait steady.

"He's a Martian, he's phenomenal," says Jean Ridel, a mere whippersnapper at "just" 84 who will himself try to set a mark in the 85-year-old category next year.

At his age, never mind Marchand's, "you have to be able to keep your balance on a bike and anticipate the bends," says Ridel.

Marchand's current feat may be well shy of Bradley Wiggins' 54.526 kilometres, yet this veteran among veterans earns no less admiration.

In any case, "I am not here to be champion. I am here to prove that at105 years old you can still ride a bike," rasps Marchand, who completed 110 laps in his 2014 effort.

Gerard Mistler, a cycling coach who advises Marchand, remains impressed as ever.

"He is very regular in his pedalling. Nothing to excess -- he is efficient."

Jean-Michel Richefort, another coach keeping a watchful eye on Marchand, adds: "His heart is exceptional. 

"He has the heart of a 60 year old and above all his cardiac rhythm is very slow and regular. Yesterday we did a 20-minute test and over the 20 minutes his pulse rate never rose above 100."

Marchand, a former national gymnastics champion, boxer and firefighter, puts his enduring fitness down to lifestyle, including a healthy diet and no smoking.

"I've done sport all my life, eaten loads of fruit and vegetables, not too much coffee.

"I do between 10 and 20 kilometres a day (cycling), but I don't train outside. I'm afraid I might catch the flu!"

 



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