High hopes, disaster and a new start: a year in the saddle for record chaser

A crash left Briton Steve Abraham far behind his US rival in the race to cycle the greatest number of miles in 12 months. But hes not a human to give up easily

The last day I considered Steve Abraham , he had a gigantic sporting dream: to smash the world record set in 1939 by Tommy Godwin of the greatest number of miles cycled in one year. After Godwin set his total, “hes to” teach himself to walk again.

It seemed unlikely , not because he didnt appear as if he could do it Id been chasing him in a Skoda all day, from Stroud to Milton Keynes, and couldnt get near him( this was partly traffic ). It was because he was so modest: he would never even think of telling you what a legend he already was on the long-distance( audax) cycling circuit. Everything about him so unassuming: his spartan living room full of motorcycles, bare lightbulbs, another motorcycle fancier building his dinner in the kitchen. That was at the end of January, and hed been running since New Years Day.

On 10 January, Kurt Tarzan Searvogel, a different kind of beast altogether, set off on the same bid across America. Abraham softly backed himself.

In March, calamity: a mope( careless moped, corrected one of Abrahams supporters, who by coincidence living on my road) hit him from behind. Abraham doesnt go in for recriminations. Oh, he stopped all right. It was me that fled the scene. It was either lose five hours in an ambulance in hospital when I was all right, or keep going when I wasnt all right. But he only got about 10 miles before the ache stopped him. So began an arduous process of one-legged recumbent cycling, total refusal and bitter disappointment.

In January, I satisfied him at the end of a 196 -mile day. This week, I caught him at 7.30 am, waiting for his breakfast to be ready, staring at his microwave with the intensity of a cat looking at a guinea pig. I was just going to go one-legged, until the ankle got better, in Milton Keynes Bowl. But I simply couldnt do enough miles doing that. Hundred miles in a day was a good day. But I required 200, so I was losing 100 a day, and Id already lost thousands because Id had 17 days not riding. I just couldnt get quick enough.

Naturally, he was back on the road before his ankle was strictly ready, and that didnt go so well, either. I went pretty well in June but I was trying too hard. He operated himself into the ground, he said. And the record was out of the window. It is an epic misfortune, told in miles and a very neutral voice.


Steve Abrahams tracker device. Photo: John Robertson for the Guardian

He must have been disillusioned, surely? Not genuinely, because I knew that kind of thing could happen. The microwave pings, and a swill of deep green vegetables is ready, the kind of thing the army would try to feed you in Day of the Triffids. He slices some hard goats cheese over it, and eats whats left in his hand like a little block of wood. Hes changed his diet, and its been hard. I had to adapt to it, thats taken about three weeks. I was really slow to start with, it really slowed me down. But now its coming in, its actually starting to work. Ive been putting on weight for about 10 or 15 years, and now I know why: its all the wheat stuff I used to eat. Stuff that are commonly people used to say is good for you, pasta and that. We were saying that in womens publications in 1995.

Anyway, in August, he started again. Tarzan will almost certainly take the record in January, and Abraham will have another seven months of cycling left, but he bears his rival no ill will. No, I want him to get it. Because I still guess I can beat him. He aint going to beat it by a lot. The most hes going to beat it by is 1,000 miles.

Abraham originally said hed defined himself the challenge because run “ve been given” him a years sabbatical. Now hes jacked in his job and will live on the cycling, through sponsorship. His family members or friends still wish him well, he assumes: Of course, I dont know, I havent had a chance to talk to them. Hell be cycling through Christmas, indeed, looks a bit bemused by the question: he lost a bit of period when his diet changed and wants to be cycling 90 to 95 hours a week. Losing 200 miles to a bank holiday is simply unthinkable.

He is so transfixed by his aim that I worry out loud about how hell feel when it aims. Oh, he tells, unruffled, there are other rides I want to do as well. Race across America, race round Ireland. The first thing I want to do after this is just go touring , not have to do 200 miles a day, stop in some of these cafe I keep passing. I havent ridden in the Welsh mountains for nearly a year. Im not here to look at the scenery, I merely have to do miles.

Its like the opposite of the sprint, he said in January, before the accident gave the statement its piquancy. Its really slow but it never ends.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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