Cycling is a sport for all the ages. Just roll up to your local club run and there’s likely to be a healthy mix of skinny-as-a-rake eighteen-year-olds, MAMILs with unnecessarily expensive equipment and long-in-the-tooth riders wrapped in wool and riding Italian steel beauties. Alright, so the latter may be in short supply on a Sunday morning, but you can bet that a handful of these chiselled and tanned gentlemen of the road will never be far from a mid-century espresso.
It is never too late to start pedalling. But what if you fancy yourself a career as a professional cyclist? While many current professionals lined up for their first race before they’d even reached double figures – baby-faced Bob Jungels of Quickstep Floors was six – it is not uncommon to begin racing in the teenage years, and some start well into their twenties. However, the more years you stack on, the lower your chance of success becomes, unless you have certain extraordinary qualities.
Let’s have a look at three current pros who were late bloomers and see how they made it.
At thirty years young, Michael (Rusty) Woods has just started his second year with American WorldTour outfit Cannondale Drapac Pro Cycling Team, where he is proving himself to be a climber to watch. The Canadian was signed not long before his 29th birthday, but his athletic career had in fact started over a decade earlier. As a promising middle-distance runner with a slew of great results, Olympic glory on the running track seemed well within his reach. However, a recurring stress fracture in his left foot dashed that dream and he found himself floundering in an office job for a number of years before finding a new passion in cycling. Impressive outings at the Tour de Beauce and Tour of Utah finally lead to a pro contract. Woods’ story is one of immense hard work and a not-insignificant amount of struggling to get where he is today, and it is a tale which is all too familiar to most of the pro peloton.
One man who already knew how to push his body and mind to the limit before joining the professional ranks is Slovenian time trial sensation, Primoz Roglic. For anyone to win the Volta ao Algarve in their second year as a pro is an incredible feat, but for that man to also know what it feels like to be a junior world champion ski jumper, is unheard of. Having been competing at a high level from the age of fourteen, Roglic has been programmed for hard work and has tasted the success that comes with it. So, when he started bike racing in 2013 at age 24, with Continental team Adria Mobil, he was already in tune with what he needed to succeed and his first pro win came just a year later at the Tour of Azerbaijan. With Lotto NL-Jumbo, Roglic is going from strength to strength and only a fool would bet against a long and fruitful career for the smiling Slovenian.
A true guinea-pig of modern cycling recruitment, Leah Thorvilson found herself on a pre-Christmas training camp with one of the biggest women’s cycling teams in the world, Canyon//SRAM. At 38, Thorvilson is at the age most cyclists would be knocking on the door of retirement, but the successful candidate of the Zwift Academy is just getting started. Before lining up for the Omloop van het Hageland at the end of February, Thorvilson had only raced a handful of road races and time trials, but she is no stranger to elite competition. She was previously an Olympic-level marathon trials runner so she, like the riders listed above, is familiar with the grit, determination and rigorous training regimes which are vital for success.
Age is just a number in cycling (up to a point). If you’ve got a good arsenal of talent, perseverance, grit and determination, you’re halfway there. All you need now is a bit of hard work and quite a lot of luck. Don’t forget that Chris Horner was 41 when he won the Vuelta a España in 2013. You never know what could happen a few years down the line. This week you might be nursing a slightly creaking winter bike around your local circuit, but in two years you could be lining up for a classic among the cycling greats.