Roger Shackleton – The ageless racer

Just last Saturday I had a fairly typical experience, I was standing around chatting to a few MWCC riders who had just finished racing in the B grade race at Randwick Botany’s Saturday afternoon Heffron races – one had finished in the pack and the other had lasted about three quarters of the race before getting spat out the back of the group. Both riders are fairly new to the scene and so they were discussing how much harder the B Grade bunch was driving the pace compared to their prior experiences in C Grade, they also made the comment ‘ gee that old guy from Manly goes pretty hard’. That old guy who had finished ahead of them, was none other than Roger ‘tick tock’ Shackleton.

Rog is a tough old character, he enjoys his beers and he also enjoys his racing. He is a wealth of knowledge and with so many riders new to racing, I thought this might be a good chance to learn from someone wiser than myself. As anyone who has raced with Rog will attest, he is happy to hand out advice mid race if you happen to be in a handicap race with him, he also isn’t shy in pointing out a few hard truths post race if he manages to catch up with you.

Only last year a young rider from Eastern Sydney made the mistake of sitting in during a handicap and then attacking the group with only a few laps to go.  The attack was futile and the bunch was caught. The rider, with his bravado of a new upstart on the scene, was full of courage until Rog sorted him out post race and gave him a piece of stern advice that had the rider looking sheepish, his father looking embarrassed and four MWCC riders trying to pull Rog back onto his bike and commence the ride home. That young rider won’t forget the advice that he was given; hopefully you won’t forget the story of Roger Shackleton.

Sandbach near Cheshire in the United Kingdom is a mostly rural town, surrounded by a number of small towns and villages that support an agricultural industry. It also borders Wales and as a result of its location can be pretty cold and gets plenty of rain.  More recently it is famous for producing One Direction boy band singer Harry Styles, however for most young kids the cold winter walks to school breed a sense of stoic spirit and it was here that Roger Shackleton was first introduced to the cycling scene.

He was only 14 years old when he competed in his first race, a 25 mile (41.5km) Individual time Trial, and he managed to snag third place on handicap, showing that a competitive streak was already alive.  Rog still recalls that he managed to complete the course in about one hour and six minutes. Now I have no way of confirming that – but I have a feeling that the grace of time has been generous to that finishing time. While that time would have probably challenged Chris Boardman’s hour record with a few years of training, instead like many a promising athlete he soon discovered girls and alcohol and gave up riding. These early years also set the mindset for Rog and his aversion to training.  He vividly remembers coming home from day long group training rides into a raging headwind, blasted with sleet, sopping wet, freezing cold, no modern clothing like today, and still 12 miles on his own to get home – all while being only sixteen years old. He still bears the mental scars from those training rides.

Rog didn’t really ride or race for a number of years until he moved out to Sydney in 1969 and the northern beaches in his mid thirties.  During this time he built surf skis and many a surfer would have ridden one of Rogers’s “Raider” surf-skis, will have purchased his book “All About Surf Skis” and watched his video “Beyond the Limits”. It wasn’t till he was up in Inverell in a second hand shop, that the urge to ride again hit him and so he bought himself a single speed track bike, assuming that was what everyone rode. He never raced at the elite level but he did a lot of opens in B grade from 35 to 40 years old and beyond. His most memorable victory was winning the the Metros (Sydney Road Championships) at Parramatta Park in 2003. It was a combined age-group masters race and Rog had been doing a bit of training coming into this event, however he wasn’t considered one of the pre race favourites. As he recalls,

A lot of the riders had just come back from the Masters Worlds and were current world champions in track events. The field was loaded with top class riders and all the best sprinters were there. It was a fast, aggressive race but no-one managed to stay away. As we finished the penultimate lap the riders at the head of the field were just gently rolling through controlling the race. As I rolled through, instead of rolling off I attacked 100%, and caught them all napping. The sprinters all looked at each other. They stuffed around and I got further away. Then they reacted and started chasing. One metre after I crossed the line as the winner about 20 guys flew passed me at 70 kph. That was a good day out.

Since that victory he has collected two further golds and a silver in the Sydney Road Champs throughout the years. Another race that stands out in Rog’s mind, though only a club championships, was a Northern Suburbs point score criterium championship held at Beaumont Road. There was a sprint every 5 laps and the winner would be decided on points. He managed third in the first sprint but  he didn’t consider himself a sprinter. He soon realised that he had no chance of winning if he just contested the sprints, so on the second sprint he took off alone as the sprinters recovered. He did approximately 20 laps alone off the front, which is no easy task due to the number of times the chasing pack can spot and measure themselves against you on the Beaumont course. The sprinters again thought they had him in check, however Rog was able to wind it up in the final straight as the peloton came closing in and again he got passed one metre over the finish line by guys charging at 70 kph. He was so knackered and relieved that he had to disappear for a few minutes to shed a little tear of joy.

Rog on the podium in 2002 at Heffron

To show that the legs still have something to give, only a few weeks back Rog managed to gain a bronze medal at the States in Masters 7 (age 60-64). While he admits that these days he is doing less training than ever and is also a few kilos heavier than his ideal racing weight, he still knows how to race. When he lined up at the start line he saw many of his usual foes including Ross Hodgson – who managed just over 16:02 in our recent hill climb championships – so no slouches in the group. With the tricky course and a high pace from the start Rog was dropped on lap 3 and was second last in the field.  He managed to recover, got the diesel ticking over and gradually reeled the field in one by one. The first and second placed riders were well gone (Graant Benett of Penrith CC and Ross Hodgson of NSCC) and not coming back but eventually it ended up with Rog in a group of three going for the bronze. Both of the other guys were much stronger and perhaps in better shape than Rog at present and it looked like his day was not going to end with a podium. Rog knew his competition, this included Malcolm Lynn who had beaten him last year by 20 minutes in a 50k MTB race, and Alan Spokes (an ex pro) who had just won the silver in the ITT beating Rog by over 5 minutes over 22kms.

While most would have started getting out their book of excuses, Rog started to look for his advantages, he knew they were stronger but they were very nervous round corners and the course was similar to Heffron Park with a complex left-turn-then-right-u-turn just before the finish straight. Being cautious around the corners is probably a fair call – I am sure they know many people their own age who have broken their hips and legs from falling down stairs. Rog began to hatch his evil plan; knowing that sprinters love to be on someone else’s wheel coming into the sprint, they were perfectly happy to let him go to the front half way through the last lap. The corners were at the bottom of a hill and they had to slow down to go round. While the guys behind were still braking Rog got out of the saddle and attacked into the first corner and kept it up right through the U-turn. As a result he came out 5-6 lengths in front of them and held that up the hill and over the line. Strength isn’t everything!   

If you want to catch up with Rog these days, the easiest way to do that is by turning up on Saturday at 3pm on the start line at Randwick Botany’s Heffron Park. Rog is a Heffron fanatic. I asked him where his passion grew from?

Let’s be honest I haven’t had any success there for some time, but Dave Watkinson and I LOVE racing at Heffron Park. It is THE best place to develop bike handling skills. 8x 90 degree corners, irregular concrete surfaces and a bumpy banked U-turn every lap. It’s always windy, often very windy. You HAVE to be able to hold a wheel, you HAVE to know how to stay out of the wind, you HAVE to be able to pedal round corners, you HAVE to be cool when in a tight bunch, you have to know when it’s up to you to bridge, because often you don’t get a second chance if you hesitate. Heffron is the racers crit course, if you love racing you’ll love Heffron Park.

Without a doubt come daylight savings Heffron Park is at its best during the Tuesday evening summer race series. Frank Concaceio runs a graded handicap series that is the most prestigious race series in Sydney. It’s prestigious enough that visiting pros regularly come and race with the rest of the boys just for the excitement when they’re in town. Because it’s a group handicap race you are personally racing against these guys whenever they are there and that is a buzz. The Tuesday night racing is split into 3 grades. The slowest guys have a big handicap and everyone else has to catch them if they want to win the race. This requires team work but some people don’t want to play team, and this can result in all sorts of interactions which adds to the spice at 45kph. There can be up to 120 riders in 3 groups fanging round a narrow, bumby, twisty course. As A grade catches everyone else you suddenly have a 100 rider bottleneck travelling along at 45kph; very hair raising as they force their way through. Then its everyone madly trying to hold a wheel to be in it for the finish; but if A grade have caught you no rider from another grade is likely to get a place.

With this type of fast and furious racing, we also see some pretty spectacular crashes often involving riders who are pushing themselves beyond their limits. These crashes are often avoidable and are due to riders making mistakes. It isn’t just the crashes, watching most racing you see plenty of riders making racing errors that could be avoided. So with over 30 years of racing experience what mistakes does Rog see too many younger or inexperienced riders making?

Sitting in. Strong young blokes that won’t do a turn when it’s really needed because “You can’t tell me how to ride, I’ll ride how I want!”.  Yeah, and come last too. Pull your weight for God’s sake it’s not going to kill you.

Wasting energy. You can’t drop a bunch of riders by sitting on the front and riding hard. You’ll just tire yourself out and they’ll all be fresh as a daisy.

Cutting corners when they’re in a bunch.  If you are 1.5 metres from the edge of the road going into a corner stay on that line right through the corner. Don’t clip the apex and chop the riders inside of you. It’s really dangerous

Flicking across the road suddenly. If you’re on the front and no-one will come through don’t suddenly flick across the road to get people off your wheel. Just  keep on the same line and slow down until you’re not pushing any harder than you want to. Someone will take over eventually and you won’t be stuffed.

Not rolling through.  If you’re chasing in a bunch or racing  in a handicap race and you genuinely can’t do a turn, stay behind the guys in the rotation. It’s really disruptive and annoying when riders get into the rotation line but won’t roll through, and it slows the chase dramatically.

With age comes experience and cycling is a sport that is constantly developing. So what advances has Rog seen in the last 30 years and what has been his favourite improvement? Is it the carbon wheels or the 10 speed bikes?

I’m not really a tech head. I’m an old fashioned guy who believes it’s mainly in the legs and the engine but there are two advances that are irrefutably fantastic. The first was STI. Changing gears and braking at the same time without taking your hands off the bars was a MAJOR breakthrough. The second awesome development is the use of Aerospace technology to produce amazing carbon fibre frames and forks. Modern carbon bikes are so good compared to our old steel or even alloy bikes. Modern factory build wheels are a lot more reliable too. I was forever truing wheels in the old days, now they just stay straight.  

Rog admits that he has never been one to do the massive kilometres on the bike, he freely admits that he hates training and would much rather just be out there racing. He had a period when he was about 40 when he was at his pinnacle of fitness however he found that he always tired and caught colds really easily and the colds had a much more dramatic effect than when he was just reasonably fit. So he simply toned down the training and ramped up the racing. You will now see Rog racing most Saturdays and Sundays.  As long as he isn’t getting smashed by his peers he doesn’t do any extra miles. His aim is to continue to jag the odd victory and when he is racing in his graded masters races he points out – As you get older the races get shorter and there are fewer riders but the quality remains the same. Only the best riders keep doing it so the bunches are smaller but the races are just as hard.

Rog leading the C Grade bunch in the Summer Series

Which makes you wonder why in an absolute moment of madness he decided to go on a 200 kilometre training ride the day he was about to ride as the most ‘aggressive rider’ in the Tuesday Night 2012 Heffron series. The week before Rog had been controlling the front of the C Grade Handicap and as a result was rewarded the coveted red jersey for the most aggressive rider in the whole of the race. He freely admits that he was absolutely shattered by the time he turned up at the start line, but he had to turn up in order to get presented with the red jersey and to make the start line. He did the race with his legs feeling like they were filled with concrete, probably not the smartest training or racing move in his career but he did get to go home with the jersey.

With so many races in his career I wondered who was the hardest competitor he had encountered over the years?

Walter Machado is without doubt the most prolific winner from my age group throughout my riding career. Walter, Keith Oliver and Roland Lang(three different age categories) have together possibly won as many races as the sum total of all their competitors together over the years. Innate talent, the determination to win, cunning, timing, confidence and personal discipline is what it takes to be a prolific winner and these three guys have all those attributes in spades.

(Roland Lang’s son Richie is now riding for the Rapha-Condor team in the UK and recently represented Australia in the World Championships at Copenhagen.)

While he still has plenty more years of racing in his legs, when he does decide to hang up the cleats, in that final race that he crosses the line – hands raised in victory, who does he dream of beating across the line?

As for quitting, I can’t imagine hanging up the cleats. It’s what keeps me thinking young, hanging around with club mates at the races, on the MTB or at Cylocross. Going away for weekends racing or doing enduros. No, I can’t imagine hanging up the cleats. For the final victory? Everyone in my group who has beaten me I have also beaten, I don’t have any targets. As long as the victory is won with the skilful use of my experience I’ll be happy with it.

So until then, there will be plenty of riders finishing races across Sydney, muttering to themselves – Gee that old guy from Manly goes alright.

6 Comments

  1. Daniel Wright

    That is a great article.
    Roger is an awesome bloke full of knowledge and experience. I remember when I started riding with the Manly group and he was tearing everyone’s legs off. I said exactly the same thing to a mate Dave who had invites me to come along “wow how strong is that older guy Roger?” and Dave just looked at me and said “he is the only REAL A grader here”

  2. Matt Lucas

    After having raced the last 13years at heffron park on a Saturday afternoon, I still get inspired by Roger’s enthusiasm for the sport & racing. He is a rider that I respect greatly for his cycling prowess, tactics & post race dissection 🙂

    I look forward to seeing Roger off the front & on the podium in many more races to come!

  3. Rob Malicki

    Sensational article guys! Don’t know anyone who doesn’t like riding (or having a beer) with Rog.

  4. Chris

    Great article! But still one question remains unanswered – why tick-tock? 🙂

  5. Alexis

    Tick Tock comes from Rog being an inventor of a clock that teaches kids to read the time correctly. Apparently it is fool proof!

    http://www.koalaclock.com/

  6. Darren Byers

    Good on you Roger. See you at Heffron mate

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