FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — It was nowhere near the 54.526 kilometers that Bradley Wiggins covered in one hour, but given his age, 105 years old, Robert Marchand impressed with his 22.547-kilometer hour record Wednesday in Paris.
The Frenchman, born in 1911, already held the record for the 100+ category, setting the mark at 26.927 in January 2014. Today, he did what no one else his age ever has to set the 105+ mark.
“I could’ve gone further!” the four-foot-11 Parisian said after the effort on the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines track. “Had I seen the 10-minute warning, I would’ve gone faster.”
Marchand turned 105 on November 26. He had this record in mind since he established the 100+ mark, first in Aigle, Switzerland, 24.251 kilometers, when he was 100, and again, on the same Saint Quentin en Yvelines track, three years ago.
“I’m surprised it’s over,” he said after saluting a packed velodrome in his yellow and purple kit. He added that he wanted to show what those his age could achieve.
Marchand survived two world wars and outlived his wife, who died in 1943. He is alone, without children, and trains alone.
“I do between 10 and 20 kilometers a day, but I don’t train outside,” he said. “I’m afraid I might catch the flu!”
Cycling has been a constant throughout his life. He bought his first bicycle in 1925 and won his first race when he was 14, but the coaches dismissed him as too small to become a professional. However, he became a national gymnastics champion and a boxer.
He gave up riding and only restarted in 1937. In 1946, when he was 35, he placed seventh behind Fausto Coppi in the Grand Prix des Nations.
Marchand worked as a firefighter in Paris, passed years in Venezuela, and cut trees in Canada. He sold shoes, gardened, and most recently, sold wine.
Cycling kept calling. He bought a new bike and began again seriously in 1978, when he was 67. He completed multiple editions of the amateur Bordeaux-Paris and Paris-Roubaix.
“I’m the first to try such a record at my age,” he said. “It’s unique, but I don’t feel special.”
Estimates put the number of centenarians in the world around 450,000. Among that group, there are special athletes like Marchand.
Fauja Singh ran 8:11 in a Toronto marathon in 2011 at age 100, but he has no record of his birth and the mark was not confirmed officially.
American Donald Pellmann, competing in the 100-104 age-group to set the 100-meter record at 26.99 seconds in 2015. Usain Bolt holds the absolute record at 9.58 seconds.
Pellman also set the high jump record for his age group at 0.9 meters. Cuban Javier Sotomayor set that world record at 2.45m in 1993
Age takes its toll, however. Marchand covered four kilometers less in the short three years that passed since his 100+ mark.
He joked, “If I did 30 kilometers they’d say I had been doping!”