One has to wonder whether the participants in the Ontario Cycling Association (OCA) Indoor Road Race Series - Master 3 Men's Division would be more surprised to find out that they were beaten, in six straight races, by a 73 year-old competitor, or by a 73 year-old competitor with just one leg.
While both statements are true, neither will come as a surprise to those who know Battista Muredda well, the long-time highly regarded coach of the Sudbury Cycling Club.
For his part, Muredda was simply thankful for locating the joy of indoor riding, once again, a pleasure to which he had become accustomed for the past two decades or so.
An avid cyclist in his youth, Muredda did not touch a bicycle for a stretch of some twenty following the loss of one of his legs in a mining accident.
Finally, with outdoor riding not a particularly viable option, he would concede to the indoor alternative right around the turn of the millenium. "I could have gone outside, but it is risky for me," said Muredda.
"With one leg, if you have a wipeout or accident and break the good one that I have, then I would be in a really bad situation. So I avoided riding outside - but if I do it indoors, I still manage to stay fit."
And therein lie the second key motivator that would lead Muredda to years of indoor training on the bike. "With an artificial leg, you really have to watch your weight," he said. "You can't gain more than five pounds or lose more than five pounds."
"Otherwise, your prosthesis doesn't stay on. This allowed me to stay within my weight range."
But while several innovative technological improvements were required to equip Muredda and countless other riders, world-wide, with the ability to compete in on-line races hosted by Zwift, that certainly wasn't the starting point for the man who was instrumental in developing cycling greats such as Eric Wohlberg, David Spears and Gary Trevisiol, all on a local level.
"I started with a regular indoor bike, a really cheap model," recalled Muredda. "After a couple of years, I burned that thing out. It just wasn't doing the job for me with the power and amount of riding I was doing."
"I changed it about three or four times, but now I've got a beautiful machine that I bought seven or eight years ago. The reason I bought it was simply that it was a very solid machine, great for training - but as far as entertainment, there was nothing."
"I didn't know anything about Zwift ten years ago," he added. "What I did to keep myself entertained was watching TV as I was riding the bicycle. Otherwise, indoors cycling is very, very boring."
"Doing 60 kilometres indoors is like doing 100 or more kilometres outside. Outdoors, it's easy to get your mind distracted. Indoors, the time doesn't move." Still, for years, Muredda would persevere, always alloting time for training while still leading his cyclists through their workouts, typically riding his moped along the Delki Dozzi track.
"Once I retired, I started doing more mileage: five thousand kilometres (annually), six, seven and eight, and then I got close to nine thousand kilometres. About two years ago, I thought that I could get to ten thousand."
And while he did reach the goal, it would come at a cost. "Once I got there, I was fed up, I didn't want to see the bicycle any more," said Muredda.
As luck would have it, his son-in-law, veteran SCC rider Derek D'Angelo, had grown accustomed to the Zwift indoor offering a few years earlier. Though the technology is pricey, once the indoor bikes are equipped with the necessary components (heart rate monitor, power meter, compute to connect to the program, Zwift membership), the simulated race environment is nothing short of extraordinary.
"You can't believe it - for me, it's like night and day," said Muredda, who only began his trial with the virtual racing system some three months ago. "It's motivated me so much. The minute I get on the bike and the screen comes up and you see your avatar and a whole bunch of other people - there are 200, 300 people from all over the world - my time just flies."
"The pain and suffering, you don't feel it as much as when you're training alone. I can't believe the difference that it's made for me."
All of that being said, it was an understandably easy decision for Muredda to join D'Angelo and a handful of other Sudbury Cycling Club members when a six-race series was offered, beginning in mid-May, by the Ontario Cycling Association.
Competing against twenty or so fellow riders across the province in his category, Muredda would finish first in six straight races. "I can't believe it myself, I didn't know I would do that well," he said.
Well enough to draw the attention of the OCA. "After two races, they noticed that I did very well and my power was very high, so they sent me an email suggesting, requesting that I move up to the next category," noted Muredda.
"I replied and said that I would gladly do it, but because the distances are greater, I find it a bit much for my age. They didn't know that I was 73 years old, and then I mentioned the other point, that I am riding on one leg."
"I didn't want any special privileges, because there were other shorter races that I could do."
No move would be required. It turns out that the OCA has an exemption that allows all riders over the age of 65 to compete in any category that they would like.
And if they can still win the races while peddling with just one leg, all the more power to them.