By Simon Smythe
John Lee, 90, has set a new hour record at Welwyn track, his 18.057 miles officially a greater distance than any man his age has ever recorded on an outdoor velodrome.
Lee, who is the president of the Icknield Road Club and has been racing since 1952, has ridden himself into the record books and out the other side: nobody in their eighties or older has ever even attempted an outdoor hour record. Lee has literally been in a league of his own he set the first of his four hour records aged 80 with a distance of 21.281 miles.
Lee’s hour records are ratified by the VTTA (Veterans Time Trials Association) but could theoretically also be world records since the UCI does not recognise outdoor track records.
Due to the crumbling surface of the Welwyn track, Lee rode drop handlebars rather than tri-bars. Resurfacing is due to take place at the end of the July and although Lee has no firm plans to improve on his distance so soon after setting it, he said: “Maybe I would get another mile out of it and I’m not boasting when I say I think I could top 20 miles on an indoor track.”
After postponing his attempt once due to windy conditions, Lee went for it on July 4, with the weather “absolutely spot on”.
He said: “I did a bit of turbo warming-up before I left, then had a half-hour drive so I hadn’t cooled down but that allowed me to get straight on and do a five-mile warm-up. And everything went fine.”
Lee rode a gear of 86.6 inches, an inch smaller than for his previous record three years ago. He used the same Planet X track frame but this time regular box-section spoked wheels rather than the disc that had belonged to Victoria Pendleton (her father is an old friend) for his previous record.
“I didn’t start as fast as I would in a ‘10’, that was the general idea, and it went fine. I started to feel it in the last 10 minutes, quarter of an hour, but one of the observers was amazed that I just got off the bike and went to have a chat whereas some people lie down gasping for breath. When you get off you always think ‘I could have gone a bit quicker’ but who knows.
“My timekeeper, Gordon Hart, who also does RRA records, worked out the times for the 5K, 5 miles, 10K and 10 miles and they’re all records. I set five age records. Nobody has ever set any of those before.”
What motivates Lee to keep training and setting records? “A lot of people in life when they get to a certain age think well, that’s it, I’ve had it now, I can’t do anything. But you can if you’ve got the will to do it and of course the fitness.”
Lee puts his fitness down to training consistently: he didn't back off in between his records. Since he doesn’t feel safe on the open road any more, all his riding takes place on the turbo and on the track.
“I had never stopped training at all. I’m always on the turbo, four or five times a week, never on there more than half an hour or 40 minutes but it’s doing it regularly that counts. And I do two or three sessions on the track each week.
“After the record I was back on the turbo the next morning leg-clearing, then I took a day off and then I was back to normal again.”
How did Lee celebrate? “There were no flags or anything like that. I’m the sort of man who’s a bit low profile. I’m always thinking there might be someone round the corner who’s a little bit better.”
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