Back on the TT beat
Early last year, retired police detective Simon Beldon sustained horrific injuries in a road traffic collision. Here, the veteran TT ace tells CW about his amazing comeback
ÒThirty-two years is a long time as a police officer,” states Simon Beldon’s profile on the Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching website, “especially in the world of murder investigation and organised crime, where the stakes are high when it comes to risk to the public.”
That long service had come to an end in 2018 when, aged 48, Beldon retired from West Yorkshire Police, where he had worked his way up to the high-stakes rank of detective superintendent. Freed from chasing murderers to instead help cyclists chase PBS, he could have been forgiven for expecting a commensurate decrease in the risk to his personal safety. No such luck.
“I was out on a bog-standard training ride. It was a clear, sunny day and I was riding along a straight road,” Beldon matter-of-factly relives the fateful day from January 2019. “The lady driving in the opposite direction – there were no other cars on the road – was moving house that day. She got to me as I was passing the house she was moving from; she wasn’t concentrating and turned right across me.”
It was a direct impact, and a brutally hard landing. “I went straight over the bars. There were some concrete blocks on the ground, and I hit them face-first.”
The force of the impact knocked out all but six of Beldon’s teeth, shattered his jaw, broke his arm and, most seriously of all, broke his back in three places. “If I hadn’t been wearing my helmet, I wouldn’t be here today,” he states firmly. Not only was he protected from brain injury, but remarkably remained conscious and at first assumed he was OK.
“After hitting the ground, initially I stood up, thinking I was fine. I realised I had a few teeth missing, then saw on the floor a load of other teeth.” The scattered molars were the first in a chain of nasty surprises.
“Some of my jaw had come away, but it was only when I got to hospital that anyone realised my back was broken.”
The implications of these spinal fractures remained harrowingly uncertain for several days. “Nobody ever told me I would never walk again, but that possibility was always going through my mind,” says Beldon. “That first week, when it was unclear, was particularly difficult.”
Thankfully there was no serious damage to Beldon’s spinal cord, and his mobility would gradually return – albeit after months of requiring help with simple tasks like dressing and showering. Returning to cycling seemed a long way off.
The year before, 2018, had been Beldon’s best ever on the bike – he won his age category in practically every race he entered, including the VTTA National 25 TT, Tour of Cambridgeshire (45-49), and 16 open TT wins from 18 starts, as well as multiple podiums in cyclo-cross and on the track. He attributes this golden year to the coaching input of Matt Bottrill, with whom he has worked since 2014. That’s not to say Beldon didn’t have pedigree; he has a 10-mile PB of 18.30, and was part of the winning team in the 2015 national team time trial, alongside Alastair Wareham and Andy Jackson.
Just three months after the accident, he was back on a turbo and taking the first painful steps towards rebuilding his fitness. “When I got home, it was like I had never ridden a bike before,” Beldon remembers. “My power was ridiculously low, and I felt like I was going to die!”
Once again, Bottrill’s support proved invaluable, encouraging Beldon to stick with it when just a few minutes on the turbo seemed like a formidable effort.
Within six months he was beginning to feel like his old self, and knew that a return to competitive action was within his grasp. The magical moment came last September on the V7115 course near Hull – and Beldon had more than one reason to feel proud. “My son Alex did a two-up time trial with me, and we won that together.” The father-and-son team clocked 20.54, winning by three seconds – all the more astonishing when you learn that Alex is just 14. “I was more proud of him than me, to be honest,” Beldon adds.
It’s now a year and a half since the accident, and Beldon is still undergoing operations to repair his jaw and replace missing teeth. But this hasn’t stopped him making excellent progress on the bike. In March this year, before the coronavirus lockdown kiboshed the season, he returned to the V7115, this time for a solo event, and consolidated his comeback with an impressive third place in 19.45.
“From a training perspective, I’m right back on it,” he says, while acknowledging the psychological scars. “I do still have a few issues around cars – mentally it can be difficult at times.”
Beldon is now 50, and although his return to racing is off to a promising start, for the time being his main focus is on developing the performance of others: as well as coaching adults, he is working one-to-one with “half a dozen” young riders whom he believes have huge potential.
“Trying to keep up with them on group rides is a nightmare,” he jokes. “I have to keep fit just so that I don’t get left behind.”