100-year-old French sets cycling record

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French cycling enthusiast Robert Marchand set a new one-hour speed record on Friday -- at the age of 100.

The centenarian rode 24.25 km (15.1 miles) in 60 minutes watched by crowds of cheering supporters at the International Cycling Union (UCI) velodrome in Aigle, Switzerland.

Marchand kept a steady pace and was hardly out of breath when he finished, telling his fans: "I could have gone faster, I didn't want to."

"I could have done a kilometre more."

The feat does not threaten the 49.7 km (30.8 miles) achieved by Czech cyclist Ondrej Sosenka in 2005 at the age of 29, but it will be recognised by the UCI in a new over-100s category.

"It will be official," said Frederic Rey, an official at the World Cycling Centre, the headquarters of the UCI.

Marchand, who marked a century in November, enjoyed cycling as a teenager but only returned to the sport at the age of 78.

He is a keen member of his local cycle club in Ardeche, south-central France, which helped co-ordinate the record attempt.

"Doing a little bit of sport every day, that's the secret," said the president of the L'Ardechoise club Gerard Mistler, who described Marchand as a role model.

"He's someone who has always enjoyed working, who is always in good humour, and who has always been sporty."

"He has never smoked and sometimes drinks alcohol but nothing to excess."

Widower Marchand, who wore his club cycling gear for the attempt, said he would toast his record however.

"We are going to drink champagne," he said. "Just a little bit -- I don't really like champagne."

Doctors assessed Marchand before he hit the velodrome and were on hand at the trackside in case he got into difficulties.

Jacques Beaune, former president of the French Federation of Cardiology, put down his great shape to good genes and a healthy lifestyle.

"He's never been ill in his life," he said.

"He does regular physical exercise and his cognitive ability is exceptional," said the doctor, who put the cyclist's body age at between 70 and 75.

"I think he's an incredible example for everyone."

About 50 members of Marchand's club travelled by coach from Ardeche for the attempt.

"He's amazing," said 60-year-old Gilbert Barailler, who said he hopes to achieve the same when he is 100, "only faster."

The record attempt also attracted Sylvestre Marcluy from Monthey, near Aigle, who came along to watch after reading about it in the local newspaper.

"I thought it wasn't possible at 100," he said. "It's incredible."

Marchand has led a colourful life, spending several years in Venezuela and working for a time as a lumberjack in Canada. But he claims he's nothing out of the ordinary.

"I'm not exceptional," he said. "I'm just normal."

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