Cyclists That Beat The Odds

Rohan Dennis bike
  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • February 10, 2015 at 10:32 PM

Imagine seeing a cyclist outpace a car on the road. While it is much easier to put the pedal to the metal in a car, at least one Australian cyclist can match the speed limits often set in suburban areas.

The 2015 Tour Down Under champion and Olympic medalist Rohan Dennis has beat the world hour cycling record, completing 52.491km on the track in Switzerland on Sunday 8th February.

“I feel pretty proud, also happy. I’ve prepared myself for a long time, it’s a huge relief,” Dennis says in one press statement.

“I’m really proud to take the chance. 2015 starts better than expected, with the victory in the Tour Down Under and now this record. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Dennis has made international headlines for his achievement, breaking the mark of 51.852km previously set by Austrian cyclist Matthias Brändle in September 2014. And, as The Sydney Morning Herald points out, Dennis’ record came just days after an unsuccessful attempt by fellow Aussie Jack Bobridge.

The contrast between these two professional cyclists highlights how big the challenge was to break the hour record. But it’s not just Rohan Dennis who is beating the odds. Here, we take a look at four other cyclists around the world who have come up against huge challenges during their careers.

James Middlemiss

Middlemiss Strava screenshot

James Middlemiss was born with clubbed feet and underwent surgery and physiotherapy at an early age just so he could walk normally. He was a keen cyclist from the time he was 15-19, but took time off to focus on being a father.

Some 15 years later, at the age of 34, Middlemiss took up cycling again after realising he was eligible for the Paralympics. With the help of his coach and sponsor, Garry Creighton, Middlemiss now rides 800 kilometres a week and has won gold and silver medals at the Australian Championships.

Last year, he also climbed the equivalent of Mount Everest 7.5 times in the third annual Strava Rapha Rising challenge. Over a nine-day period, Middlemiss rode 1609km with a total elevation of 67,332 metres, not only earning a place in the Everesting Hall of Fame but also becoming the first paracyclist to do so.

Middlemiss is now on the road to the 2016 Paralympic Games, with a very real chance of getting there, despite the fact that he’s only been seriously training since 2013 (this time around).

Unlike some inspiring cyclist camps – such as Cadel Evans – Middlemiss is not a household name. But his achievements so far show just how much someone can accomplish through commitment, planning and passion. To celebrate that spirit, here is a look at the stories of three very different cyclists that have also climbed some steep mountains to become champions of the sport.

Graeme Obree


Now known as The Flying Scotsman, Graeme Obree was an unconventional cyclist from the start. At the start of his career, Obree was a “modestly successful” time trial cyclist who ran a bike shop to make ends meet. But when the shop went under, Obree knew something had to change.

“I was in debt,” Obree explains in an interview with The Telegraph. “I had a court summons for £492 college fees, I had no money to repay it and the economy had melted.”

Obree was also struggling to overcome personal challenges. He experienced extreme mood swings (and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder) and drank excessively, among other things.

So he decided his way out was to set himself a cycling challenge: to beat the hour world record. Unlike Dennis, however, Obree even build his bike (known as Old Faithful) out of materials that included washing machine parts. He took the world record in both 1993 and 1994, along with other titles throughout his career.

While some of his innovations in cycling design have been praised, others saw him disqualified from races. Despite the challenges, Obree was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and has had a film made about his life: The Flying Scotsman.

Mark Zak

Zak was part of the US Cyclist team for the 2011 Special Olympics, where he earned two medals. Zak, who is autistic, had been cycling for six years when he went to Athens in 2011, and was also the youngest member of the U.S. cycling team.

According to US press reports at the time, Zak’s parents introduced him to cycling after he had issues playing soccer.

“He had flat feet and we were looking for a sport,” Zak’s father told FOX News at the time. “He gained quite a bit of weight, so it was a great way for him to start losing that weight.”
FOX 13 News

Zak overcame further problems that arose (including a fractured jaw due to a seizure he had on his bike) and in 2010 was chosen to compete in Athens by Florida’s Special Olympics program, which provides year-round sports training and competition to 15,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

He went on to win gold in the 1-kilometer cycling time trial and silver in the 10K cycling time trial at the games.

Arielle Martin

Martin was set for cycling stardom from an early age, hopping on her first BMX at five and going pro by the time she was 16. But that same year her liver was lacerated during a crash and, just two years later, she had two stress fractures in her lower lumbar that doctors thought would be the end of her competitive cycling career.

Martin, however, didn’t want to give up that easily.

“I didn’t want to let any doctor tell me I couldn’t do something,” she says in an interview with reporter Christie Poole.

Martin did recover, and continued to race while also studying education science at university. In 2008, at the age of 23, Martin was competing in the quarterfinals of the World Championships when she crashed again.

While it meant she missed out on qualifying for the Olympic Games, her friend and colleague Jill Kitner was guaranteed a spot on the US BMX Olympic Team as a result and said Martin was a huge inspiration. Although Martin may not have any recent cycling wins to her name, her story proves champions are made in many different ways.

These cyclists had tough odds to face throughout their lives, but all four of the stories here offer inspirations and insights into what it takes to be a winner. Whether it’s taking home gold, breaking a world record or overcoming injuries, these four athletes show that sometimes what people say can’t be done, really can be done.

Image credits (from top): Rohan Dennis, UCI channel (YouTube); James Middlemiss profile on Strava; Graeme Obree via Wikimedia Commons; Rohan Dennis, BMC Switzerland (YouTube).

Rohan Dennis youtube

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