Smith seals success after overcoming tough Belgium test
A Barnack cyclist is feeling on top of the world after producing a master-class performance to claim a coveted crown.
Denis Smith was triumphant in the UCI Masters Cyclo-Cross World Championship in Belgium where he topped the 75+ age category.
It’s the pinnacle of his cycling career for 74-year-old Denis of Bainton Road who will wear the coveted rainbow jersey after only taking up the sport seven years ago.
He enthused: “To wear the rainbow jersey is every cyclist’s dream.
“It all goes over my head a little bit as that’s the sort of person I am, but everybody is really proud of what I’ve done.
“I’ve had a good year, beating a lot of younger people, but there’s still people about in my age group who are going well so I couldn’t sit on my laurels.”
Denis – who qualifies for the 75+ age category due to a quirk of the competition rules – was forced to battle with an unforgiving Zilvermeer circuit to claim his success.
Large parts of the course were covered in sand which forced the senior cyclists to dismount and run where his past running experience came to the fore.
He explained: “A third of the lap is actually running which is unusual for cyclo-cross, but the course was very sandy so it wasn’t an easy win.
“It was a most unusual circuit because of the silver sand. You just sink into it and you can’t cycle through it. The young guys do, but they’re expending so much energy.
“There was nowhere in the race to feel sorry for yourself because it’s the World Championships.
“I had to keep it going and, because of all the running in the sand, it’s not easy. You are at the absolute limits. Your heart-rate is right at the top.”
Denis, who is married to wife Lorraine, took up the sport after niggling injuries curtailed his running career.
His two sons – Nathan and Austin – were heavily involved in the sport and Denis decided to follow in their footsteps.
He said: “Both my sons were doing biathlons when I decided to pack up running because of knee injuries.
“They enjoyed doing the mountain biking so much that they veered off to doing that.
“My youngest son – Nathan – wanted to do the national rounds of the British Championships and wanted me to join him as a super vet.
“I’d already been out the previous autumn in a Friday night series with Austin over Northampton way.
“This meeting started about 7pm and went on to about 10pm so it was in the dark towards the end.
“I did the riding in the daylight and Austin took over when it got dark. I really enjoyed it. I got the bug.
“When Nathan said he was going to the national series, I never anticipated what I was getting into at the time.
“Mountain biking is serious with drop offs, etc, so I was in at the deep end.”
Denis, who worked for Stable Hire and then Plant Hire before retiring, now plans to defend his title next year but will face a tough challenge from close friend and fellow competitor Vic Barnett from Market Harborough.
The duo regularly do battle over the course of the season with Vic currently competing in the upper echelons of the 70+ age category.
Denis added: “I’m definitely going back to defend my title. Vic will be in my age group next year so it will be a real ding-dong.
“Vic was as pleased as I was when I won it. There’s a competitive spirit between us, but mutual respect as well.
“I race against Vic regularly. He’s at the top of the 70+ category and this year I had started beating him.
“I had never beaten him before so I knew I was in good condition.
“When I went to Belgium, I decided that if could get a good start and I could get Vic in my sights then I would follow him round.
“If I could hang on to him, which I did for the first lap, I’d have a good idea of where I wanted to be.
“He’d already been to the European Championships and beat two of the guys in my age group by two minutes so I was fairly confident I could beat them if I could stick with Vic.
“The way I had been going at my age group, I had a feeling as long as nothing went wrong and there wasn’t somebody else there that was equally as good, then I had a good chance.
“But you just never know because it’s a world series so there is now way of knowing.”
Denis eventually finished 1min 50secs clear of the second-placed rider in his category to cap a stunning season which has also produced a string of successes in the 70+ category of the Leicestershire Cyclo-Cross League where he represents Windmill Wheelers of Wymondham.