Tributes paid as French ‘world’s oldest racing cyclist’ dies age 109

Robert Marchand continued to set competitive cycling records well after his 100th birthday, and was also known for his strong political views and sense of humour

23 May 2021
Robert Marchand on the summit named after him in the Ardeche. Tributes paid as French ‘world’s oldest racing cyclist’ dies age 109

Robert Marchand continued to cycle competitively well after his 100th birthday, and even has a summit named after him in Ardèche Pic: CitizenVelo / @Citizenvelo / Twitter

By Hannah Thompson

Tributes are coming in for record-breaking centenarian French cyclist Robert Marchand, who has died at the age of 109.

Mr Marchand died overnight on Friday May 21 at his care home in Mitry-Mory (Seine-et-Marne). At age 105, he was recognised as the “world’s oldest competitive cyclist” by Cyclist magazine.

Town mayor Charlotte Blandiot Faride paid tribute, saying: "Robert was a real champion, someone who could dream but also kept his feet on the ground. He was also a friend, someone who was very engaged with unions and politically very left-wing. He was a symbol of our town.”

Cycling authority La Fédération Française de Cyclisme wrote: “We would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to him today and extend our condolences to his family.”

As a communist, Mr Marchand refused to accept a gold medal from then-Sports Minister Roselyn Bachelot in 2009, due to his political convictions.

On Saturday (May 22), the secretary-general of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) paid homage to the sportsman.

Fabien Roussel wrote: “He was inexhaustible. At 108 years old, he continued to take up every challenge on his bike and made us dream. He had lived through the Spanish flu, World War One and World War Two...Friend and comrade, dear Robert Marchand, rest in peace.”

Fans and admirers left more tributes on Twitter.

 

‘Use everything, abuse nothing’

Born on November 26, 1911, Mr Marchand had an extraordinary life. Despite first discovering cycling as a teenager, he was deemed to be too small to succeed in the sport, and so gave it up. 

He then became a firefighter, a sugar cane planter in Venezuela, a lumberjack in Canada, and a wine salesman among other pursuits, before returning to cycling at age 67. He went on to race four Paris-Roubaix, eight Bordeaux-Paris, and 12 Ardèche (l’Ardéchoise) events in his category.

His strong health meant he broke several records. In 2012 in Lyon, he won the record for the fastest time for cycling 100 kilometres in the 100+ age category, with four hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds.

At the age of 102, he won another record, for 26.927 kilometres in an hour at the velodrome of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. In 2017, he established a new world record for the over-105s category - created just for him - after he completed 22.547 kilometres in an hour. 

He celebrated his 107th birthday by cycling 20 kilometres between Privas and Pouzin in Ardèche. The department even has a summit named after him.

Even in his elderly care home, he had an indoor cycling bike installed in his room.

He was well known for his sense of humour and indefatigable approach towards the sport, once replying to a journalist after a race: “No, I am not tired. I thought my legs were hurting but actually, my legs were not hurting.”

In 2017, Mr Marchand explained his good health and advanced years to FranceInfo. He said: “You must use everything but abuse nothing.”

Related stories

Pedal power ‘keeps cyclists young at heart'
Watch mountain biker complete La Défense tower challenge
7 fun facts about cycling in France

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
Income Tax in France 2021 (for 2020 income)*
Featured Help Guide
Order your Income Tax in France guide now for immediate digital access
Get news, views and information from France
You have 2 free subscriber articles left
Subscribe now to read unlimited articles and exclusive content
Already a subscriber? Log in now