Wally Fowler

MAGGIE INTERVIEWS: Wally Fowler

On his World Championship

Maggie Thompson, club member and past committee member, was a prominent track rider in the 1970’s, competing initially under her maiden name, Margaret Gordon Smith. Her speciality was the Pursuit, over 3000m, winning the National Championship in 1977 and again in 1978 beating big names such as Beryl Burton and her daughter Denise, Brenda Atkinson and Catherine Swinnerton. Outside the UK, she rode in 1971, 1977 and 1978 track and road World Championships and gained 3rd place overall in the 3-day Tour Feminine based at Le Havre, France in 1978. Now she turns her hand to interviewing another trackie, Walter (Wally) Fowler, member of Stourbridge Cycling Club who went to Australia, to the Sydney Velodrome, in 2008 and won the World Track Masters 500m time trial, in the 70+ age category.

Q Wally, at 74 years old, in 2008, you left this a bit late?

Well, yes, on the face of it, I did. But, on the other hand, sport is not just for the young, or for the middle aged or any special group of people. It is for everybody. And in cycling, in particular, there are plenty of riders in their 60s, 70s and over who are able to enjoy sport to a level that surprises people who think the armchair is the only proper place to be when they retire!

In cycling, as in other sports, we have the Masters programme of events, on track or road, consisting of 5-year age bands, starting at 30 or 35 and ending at 75+ to any age. This means that anybody in between has the chance to compete in similar age/ability groups, winning medals, rainbow jerseys or recording Best Times. At 74, all I had to do was beat other older men in my age category.

Q You joined SCC in 1980. Tell me, what has the club meant to you?

I came back to cycling in 1980, having spent 20 years out of it as many men do when running a business or bringing up a family. I looked for a club where I could get the kind of support needed to get going again, initially in getting fit through clubruns, riding the short distance time trials and enjoying the camaraderie that is special to cyclists. At such times, we make friends for life when we help someone get past the wall (as a marathon runner might say) or eat his way out of “the bonk” (as old-fashioned cyclists would say)!

Although by physique I am a sprinter, long distance riding/touring has featured in club activities. The End to End is an example, as are Etape du Tour, Pacific Coast and the Three Raids, Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites. Among club members there is a wealth of experience in similar riding. This, and the variety of competitions, is the appeal of the club, catering as it does for all age groups. We should not forget the social side, too. A chapter could be written on pints consumed per mile! By others, of course.

Q So what made you take to the track again?

I started at 16 in 1950, on the track at Preston Park, Brighton in the days of Reg Harris and Van Vliet, both of whom visited our clubroom and showed us how it is done. I must be a slow learner, though, because I did not get further than the Club and Army Championships. I had to do the normal National Service (three years in my case), but I did take the bike with me to Singapore and Hong Kong. Riding through the jungle at night, the path lit by a dynamo, humming just above the noise of the insects, or riding fixed wheel over Tai Mo Shan mountain in Hong Kong are memories that are still vivid today. I digress.

To answer the question, I went back on the track after 50 years just to see if I still could. I found that I could and was persuaded by members of Halesowen CC that I should ride the Masters.

Q How did you prepare and train?

Another club for the purpose of competing on the track was necessary because access to one for training is vital, particularly to a sprinter. Halesowen has its own outdoor track and I compete in their colours.

Surprisingly, the World Masters was on the plan from the beginning and I started serious training in October 2007, one year ahead of the Worlds in October 2008. My fitness level, generally, was good in the light of the clubriding in previous years, but the accent had to alter in favour of strength and speed. The first came from weights and circuit training in the winter and spring months. The second was improved from road riding, shorter distance, trying a bit harder, then the indoor track at Newport, the outdoor in the better months and turbo variable resistance.

My principal coach was Courtney Rowe at Newport. He gave me the programme, not an easy one to devise in view of my age and absence of racing history. There is a certain poignancy about that lack of racing. A prominent older rider said to me when sussing out the competition in advance, “You haven’t done much racing, don’t bother to come back!”  Perhaps more by luck than anything, that rider finished behind me in a competition. It is a fine line, though, between right and wrong in older riders.

Q What comes next?

In  2008 I campaigned for an additional age group, 75+, for the World Masters because I did not want to be beaten by 69 year-olds.  The category was introduced for October 2009 following my campaigning.  As luck would have it, the World Masters Games was in Sydney 2009 the week before the World Masters Championship.

Fighting for additional older categories for competitors is a continuing struggle. Currently in the USA there is a category for 85 +.  Category championships result from numbers of entries. Insufficient numbers mean older riders sometimes have to compete with younger age categories.

Update: Walter won the 2012 world masters championships 75+ time trial with a time of 42.402, easily beating his closest rival Derek Thurrell.

Q   So, what have been your competition results?

World Track Masters

Year Event Category Location
2008 World Masters – 500m – Gold 70-74 Sydney, Austrlia
2010 World Masters – 500m – Silver 75 – 79 Anadia, Portugal
2012 World Masters – 500m – Gold and World Record 75 – 79 Manchester
2013 World Masters – 500m – Silver 75 – 79 Manchester
2014 World Masters Records 200m and 500m 80 – 84 Manchester
2015 World Masters Hour Record (UCI) 35.772 km 80 – 84 Newport, Wales
2016 World Masters – Sprint 4th, 2k Pursuit 5th, 500m 5th 75+ Manchester

European Track Masters

Year Event Category Location
2011 European Masters – Sprint+ 500m – Silver 70+ Montichiari, Italy

LVRC Track Nationals

Year Event Category Location
2011 LVRC Nationals – 500m, Sprint  + Scratch Gold 75 – 79 Newport, Wales
2012 LVRC Nationals – 500m Gold, Sprint Gold, Scratch Silver 75 -79 Newport, Wales
2013 LVRC Nationals – 500m Gold + Sprint Gold 75 – 79 Newport, Wales
2014 LVRC Nationals – Sprint Gold, 500m Silver 75 – 79 Newport, Wales
2016 LVRC Nationals – Sprint Gold, Pursuit Bronze, 500m Bronze 75 – 79 Newport, Wales