What does it take to become a World Champion? Talent, obviously, but equally essential are determination, single-mindedness, and an immense amount of hard work.
This is some of what we learnt from 59-year-old age-group cyclocross World Champion Robin Delve, who won his title in December 2017 at the UCI meeting in Mol, Belgium.
Interestingly, Robin says that although he was always interested in sport - at school he played rugby and ran cross-country; at college he took up basketball and volleyball - he did not have any kind of involvement in cycling as a young man, and certainly not elite cycling. But he does have all the aforementioned qualities, and he credits his parents with encouraging him to “do something well if he was going to do it at all”.
Not once during talking to us did Robin mention the idea of competitiveness. What motivates him is the idea of personal improvement - and in his cycling that meant that from the start he was only concerned about getting better.
His journey to the top of the world began when, having moved with his wife and children into a house in a forest as part of a new job with the Forestry Commission, he accepted the invitation of a neighbour to go mountain biking once a week. Once he started cycling, typical of him he immediately began thinking about how to be a better rider, how to ride faster. That same neighbour introduced him to mountain bike racing and by training hard he became increasingly successful - his finishes went from 12th to 6th to 3rd.
In 2002, he took part in his first cyclocross race, at Exeter. At that point he felt that he had found his home in cycling, and he became a regular participant in the South West cycling leagues. As well as the style of the racing, he liked that the races were organised in such a way that he could involve his family, and they could take part in the racing, too. At one stage, before he had a dedicated cyclocross bike, his son Christian - who has filmed all of the accompanying video for us - used the same bike in the junior races that Robin used in his senior age-group races - causing much amusement! Another aspect of cyclocross that he likes is that in the South West the adult races, from 18 years old upwards, all take place together, cycling on the same course at the same time. With all age-groups on the course at once, there is no way of knowing who is ahead in a particular age-group, who is behind - so it’s purely a question of chasing the rider in front of you and staying ahead of the rider behind you! The results are declared after the final rider has crossed the line.
Following good results in the South West leagues Robin began to take part in national competitions and in 2013 he arrived at the championships in Abergavenny. Despite having taken the previous season off, which meant he had no ranking and therefore a low start number, he finished 7th, a good result.
British Cycling always attended race meetings with its own lorry topped with a winners’ podium, and the public attending the meeting could have their photos taken on the podium. As a racer, that didn’t appeal to Robin, he was determined only to climb on the podium by right, and the following year at the National Championships in Derby he did just that, finishing 2nd in the over-55’s.
Those successes gave Robin the ambition to compete in the World Championship, but although the championships are open to anyone to enter he said to himself that he would only enter if his results would have earned him a place in a GB team had there been one. The 2nd place finish did just that, so in 2016 he entered the World Championships in Mol. His ride that year produced a top-10 finish in the over-55’s and crucially it gave him experience of racing on the course that would also be the venue for the following year.
For the whole of 2017 his training had only one goal, to improve his cycling in ways that were tailored to the demands of the Mol course. Every day he visualised winning the race and every day he worked on specific aspects of his cycling that would suit the course. And we now know that all that hard work paid off, he has the World Champion’s Rainbow jersey and he will always have the right to decorate his beloved Argon bike and all future bikes with the rainbow-coloured stripes of a World Champion!
Right now he is training towards defending his title, and before that there are the European Championships in October. Following the Worlds there are the British Championships in January 2019, a title he is intent on winning for the first time. Having met Robin Delve, we don’t doubt his chances!