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

Cycling Weekly - - MY FITNESS CHALLENGE - David Brad­ford

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.

Fly­ing high

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.”

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