We've all got the ride stuff!
Five years ago Dom Castle had never raced a bicycle. Then he had a short meeting with the boss that changed his and his family's lives…I WAS pretty much ordered into competitive cycling by the editor.
Five years ago Dom Castle had never raced a bicycle. Then he had a short meeting with the boss that changed his and his family's lives…
I WAS pretty much ordered into competitive cycling by the editor. The EADT had just agreed to sponsor the Eastern Cyclo-cross League and the guv'nor felt we needed to get up close and personal with the noble sport of bike racing.
“You ride a bike,” he observed with an evil glint in his eye. “Go and have a try. And make sure you come last - it'll make a better story.”
So I turned up on a chill November morning with my mail-order mountain bike and jeopardised my career prospects by defying orders and not coming last. Admittedly I was second last and finished convinced that my innards would soon be my outards, so hard had been the effort.
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But I was hooked. Part of it was the physical effort and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you've tried your damnedest, part of it was the amiable and welcoming nature of my fellow riders and part of it was realising that this was a hobby with a whole world of new and shiny things in it.
And so I got my first proper cyclo-cross race bike and worked my way up from the bottom of the heap to somewhere around the middle. It was tough but I loved it and still do.
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After a while my son Tom, then 13, decided he'd have a go too and within a couple of races he'd been drawn deep into the world of gears, hard pedalling and, um, Lycra.
Of course he soon became much quicker than me, though for a while I could outlast him over a distance. “Tortoise and hare, boy!” I'd crow as we rode around Suffolk's beautiful quiet lanes on a training ride.
While he started out in cyclo-cross he's now into open road racing and as a six-foot something 17-year-old he's now competing against - and beating - men who've been doing it for years. He's made me a proud dad, even though the little so-and-so can freewheel past me uphill. Over the last five-odd years I've dabbled in many of the different branches of the sport available; mountain bike racing (laid-back but as hard as you want it to be) road-racing (by turns exhilarating and terrifying as you head into a bend at 30mph with knuckles touching one of the other 60-odd nutters racing you) and sportives (100 miles? 9,000ft of hill-climbing? Yes, please!) They're all brilliant and I've still to get into the velodrome for a quick Hoy round the boards.
What has the present Mrs Castle been doing while this is all going on? Well, the potential for family involvement is one of the great things about cycling and now she's almost as immersed in it as we are.
Admittedly she's less keen on the actual racing and riding bit herself, and still doesn't know her crank arm from her elbow, but she's a regular race scorer in the cross season, looks after the money for the youth section of our bike club and has decided to organise a road race next spring.
Cycling has been great for us. We've toured abroad, we were on the finish line when Mark Cavendish won his first Tour de France stage in Chateauroux last year, we've climbed the hallowed Mont Ventoux, spent thousands on bikes and bits and stayed in some of Britain's lousiest hotels in pursuit of national honours.
It's also stopped me getting fat and lazy and keeps the old blood pressure under control.
Thanks to Cycle Scheme I also managed to get a smart new bike cheap to ride to work, though I still won't walk through the office in cycling shorts.
Best of all we've met some great people and made some wonderful friends. And we're never short of Christmas present ideas.