Meet Chris Symonds: The 47-year-old Londoner who works at the House of Commons and rode Worlds TT for Ghana

Self-funded and self-coached, Symonds is the oldest-ever competitor in the men's time trial at the World Championships

Chris Symonds
(Image credit: Getty)

"I'm back to work on Tuesday," Chris Symonds says in the mixed zone after completing his effort in the men's elite time trial at the Flanders World Championships. 

"I work at the House of Commons as a doorkeeper, been there 20 years, your MP would know me. It's a good job and they've let me have a few days off to come and race and then go back."

If you think that sets Symonds apart from the rest of the field who took on the 43km course from Knokke-Heist to Bruges, wait for this. He's also 47 years old, the oldest rider to ever compete in the men's time trial at the Worlds, is also self-coached, and has paid £800 out of his own pocket in order to compete.

Symonds is in Flanders representing Ghana, his dad's English and his mother's from the West African nation. Originally, he wanted to run competitively for Ghana before injuries put paid to that so then turned his hand to triathlon. 

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At the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, he became the first Ghanaian to compete in the triathlon, kickstarting the country's triathlon federation. By the time the 2010 Delhi Games rolled around, and with no triathlon to compete in, he asked Ghana's cycling federation if he could compete in the time trial and subsequently became the first Ghanaian to compete in that discipline too.

"I [used to] raced in time trialling, still do," Chris explains, a member of his local North Road club. "[On] Tuesday nights in the summer. And it just happened that I was one of the quickest in Ghana."

While Symonds finished in last place in the Worlds time trial, 18 minutes down in Filippo Ganna and six seconds behind the next fastest rider, it's not really about the result. Given his age and the fact he's had to do everything himself - his only help comes from his Slovakian wife who acts as team manager, soigneur and many other roles - it's impressive the gap isn't bigger.

"We've had to pay our own way, our own hotel," Symonds explains. "Pay our way to get on the Eurotunnel to come here. Everything, I'm self-funded. But I've got to give a shout out to Endura, they've looked after me, given me kit, a helmet, I wouldn't have had a skin suit to wear that's up to standard."

One thing that wasn't up to the UCI standards was his bike set-up, having to adjust his saddle, meaning he rode his effort in a different position than he usually does.

"The regulations in the UK...we have certain setups so we can go as fast as possible. Here, they've got all their jigs and measurements and they moved my seat, took me out position a little is what it is, you just get on with it. 

"[At the] World Championships you just push as hard as you can go. I think I lost a bit of power today but I think what I'll do [now] is keep the same setup and just get used to it now and then I'll be ready for the Commonwealth Games next year in Birmingham."

Chris Symonds

(Image credit: Future)

Symonds' eyes light up at the prospect of another major competition, and says the battle between competing and enjoying the experience is a hard one to balance.

"The crowd...fantastic. I mean, you're racing but you can't savour it too much, it's actually racing, you've got to focus," he says of his experience out on the course to Bruges.

On Symonds' bike is a Black Cyclists Network sticker. Its founder, Mani Arthur, was supposed to have come to Flanders to support but Covid regulations made it impossible.

Symonds' booked his spot at the Worlds by sending his power files and results to the Ghanaian Federation, who then approve him to be their representative, and are keen for him to compete and "put Ghana on the map".

"When you look 20 years later down the line [there'll be] someone going much faster than me, [it's about being] someone else's inspiration. That's what you want, don't you?

"But yeah, it's hard for me to pay to go to Ghana to compete, again, it's Covid, funding, and so on. I think we've spent about seven 800 quid on this trip."

When Symonds returns to London it will be back to doing a turbo session before work before commuting by bike to Parliament, and also doing longer rides at the weekend. Not dissimilar to many amateur riders around the UK, really.

"I could do with a coach to basically help me out this winter," Symonds says. "That'd be great. Someone affordable really, to get me prepped this winter for Birmingham." To the coaches out there: form an orderly queue, please.

Symonds' desire to inspire others is more important and meaningful than the order in which the riders stack up in the final result, and he hopes for increased diversity in the years to come. A father to two boys, he hopes his 11-year-old will ride internationally in the future.

"With cycling, it’s mainly the big nations that do well. Imagine a scenario where you have over 100 countries able to compete, it would be great to see more diversity in cycling, just for the competition, it’d be much harder, much more interesting perhaps. Now, you’ve got five or six guys competing for the medals," Symonds says.

"You've got Cycling Weekly here and Cycling News, if they put that out there, show different types of people, we do ride and race, then that can inspire others to get on and do it.

"I think sometimes you the press can do a bit more about promoting, putting out different colours, women and youngsters, different ages and show that it is diverse."

Symonds enthusiasm for the sport is infectious and is someone we can all learn from.

"It's great to ride a bike because the older you get it's easier, running gets harder but riding the bike gets easier," he finishes, laughing.

So, what's next for Symonds?

"I've got a race at the weekend at Berkhamsted coming up, put myself down for a 10 miler. It’s funny, isn’t it? You come to the World Champs and then you go do a 10-miler in seven day’s time."

Back to normal life for Symonds, then, a life that isn't actually very normal at all.

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.