As a time tester myself ‘back in the day’, I’ve always had an interest in the great Pursuit riders. A year or two ago I was fortunate enough to interview Steele Bishop, World Professional Pursuit Champion in 1983; and then, earlier this year I reviewed his autobiography, Wheels of Steele.
When I saw he was competing at Manchester in the 2019 Veteran’s World Track Championships I resolved to keep an eye out; I knew he wouldn’t be there to make up the numbers.
He duly won four titles – here’s what he had to say to me after he’d ‘done the business.’
Congratulations, Steele – but why come back this year?
“In 2018 while following the second week of the Tour De France, I decided that I was going to break the World’s Best Time for the pursuit in the masters 65-69 age group.
“The reason for this was that my Wheels of Steel autobiography which I had just finished ended in the late eighties, and if I were to make a comeback and set a new world record, then I could write a final chapter to bring the book more current.
“The journey never ends.”
Four titles won: Scratch, 500 metre TT, Points and, of course, the pursuit.
“Thirteen months ago, I wrote down my goals for the State, National, and Worlds.
“The Worlds goals were winning four gold medals and setting a new world best time.
“After writing this down, all I needed to do was focus on the process, and the results would follow.”
Back in the day you were a perfectionist in your approach to training and equipment…
“Once again, I looked at what made the journey to winning the World Professional Pursuit back in 1983 so successful, and it was having the right team alongside me — also having the best equipment.
“This is where I turned to TBE (The Bicycle Entrepreneur), who are the professionals in this area and Rudy Project for the best aero helmets and prescription glasses.
“Having the right coach, who is sold out to your goal, is critical.
“I spent six weeks looking before deciding on Darryl Benson, son of Ken Benson, who coached me for the Worlds back in the ’80s.
“Darryl had the results on the board, with fourteen years coaching for the Western Australia Institute of Sport (WAIS) bringing a truckload of athletes through to National and World level.
“Darryl also raced against me back in the eighties and knew what I was capable of and my commitment to getting the job done.
“This was a good fit with mutual respect.”
And the rest of your team?
“As I was going to be pushing my body beyond its current capabilities at least four if not five times every week for the next twelve months, I needed support from a chiro-kinesiologist, just as I did back in the ’80s.
“Once again, I sought out the right person to partner with — Simon Carlin from Carlin Chiropractors.
“Over the next year or so, I would see Simon at least twice a week, sometimes three times.
“He would prepare my body and mind to go to the next level and then repair the damage I would inflict on it at training.
“This was a critical part of my preparation.
“I was also fortunate to be sponsored by Nutriway for my supplementation and protein requirements.
“I have always been an advocate of consuming the best nutritional support for the body and to have Nutriway partner me in this endeavour was a major plus.
“It gave me abundant energy, assisted recovery and boosted my immune system.
“The weekly massage was also vital either from my coach or a local remedial masseur.
“Furthermore, just about every day, my wife Sheila would run a massage machine over my legs and body, to aid the circulation and muscle recovery.
“This was a winning team.”
“Back in the ’80s, my training consisted of longer miles and track work three times a week right up till the last three weeks, and then it became seven days a week at the track.
“This time was very different; daily short easy road mile (recovery) and track sessions that were much harder and more frequent.
“This was for twelve months solid.”
Did you know your opposition?
“At Manchester this year, I decided to ride in four out of the five individual events for my age group (Masters 8) 65-69 years.
“I felt quietly confident, although I didn’t really know my opposition.
“All I knew were the times they did at their National Championships.
“Once again, I didn’t think about the end result.
“All I did was focus on the process.
“This kept the pressure off, knowing that how I was going to ride the event would determine the results.”
I remember you telling me that before each ride at the Worlds you used to personally check the bike?
“Before taking to the track each time, I still did the following checks:
– my gearing
– the wheel nuts are tight
– the chainring bolts are tight and the chain was loose enough
– my tyres have 220 psi and are clean
– my ritual to prepare my body both physically and mentally.”
Why an Argon 18 machine?
“There were a few reasons why I ended up riding the Argon bike.
“Firstly I wanted a bike that was easily converted from standard race drop bars to the TT bars for the Pursuit.
“I noted that the Australian team had changed over to Argon.
“Also, I could have one sent out within the week, and time was against me, as the state track championships were only nine weeks away.
“I found this frame was so stiff that I could not throw it around like a normal track bike.”
“Back in the ’80s, I rode a 91.8″ gear for the Pursuit, and now I ride 100.2” gear.
“When I rode the 5000m pursuit, my first 2000m was 2min 22sec, pacing myself for a further 3000m.
“This was without aero wheels, on an outdoor concrete track, 36 years ago.
“Now I do the 2000m in 2min 24sec.”
You’re still looking lean and mean.
“The good thing is that my race weight is the same today as it was back then.”
Talk us through the titles, Steele – the Scratch was first?
“Yes, my first event at this year’s Worlds was the Scratch Race.
“I kept a good position the whole race and hit the power button with one lap to go and rode away from the field down the back straight, winning by a few lengths.
“After the race, I went for drug testing, which took nearly three hours.”
And the next day was the 500m TT?
“That’s right. With three heats to go (of six riders each), I was in the first position.
“Then it came down to the last heat, and I was still leading.
“In the last heat was last year’s World Champion from France. With half a lap to go, he was leading by half a second. However, he faded, and I ended up with my second gold medal.
“Darryl came up and showed me my half lap times; I actually rode every half lap faster than the previous one, all the way to the finish – which is unusual as most riders slow down in the last half lap.”
You didn’t have any trouble in the Points Race?
“No, I really enjoyed it – well, except for the warning I got from the chief commissaire for pushing!
“I had total control over the race from start to finish; I led out the last sprint for double points, with five laps to go.
“All I did was increase the pace every lap through to the finish and won comfortably.”
Lastly, your pet event, the Pursuit…
“Yes, the 2000m Pursuit. In the morning, we rode the first round.
“Unfortunately, I was put in the second last heat because last year’s world champion rides in the last heat, and by riding in the last heat, you can see what the times are and ride hard enough to qualify for the final.
“With two riders still to ride after me, I needed to put in a credible time to make sure of a ride for gold.
“As it turns out, I broke my own World Best Time, set at the Australian Championships back in April.
“This was the fastest time of the day, which put me in the final.”
And you had a bit of a gap after that…
“There was more than six hours until the final… I was going to go back to the accommodation, have a shower, something to eat and a little sleep before coming back to the track.
“However, as it turned out I had to go for another drug test, which stopped all those best-laid plans.
“That took a few hours, so I ended up staying at the track all day.
“When the final came around I knew I could win but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to attempt another world best time.
“I still rode a second off my best time and won gold by four seconds to the American rider, Kent Bostick.”
Four Gold Medals and a new World Best Time from the Championships.
What’s on the SB ‘Still To Do’ list?
“Watch this space.”
Once a champion, always a champion.