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Walsall's Jim Horton enjoys ride of a lifetime for Falkland Islands in Commonwealth Games time trial

Around two-and-a-half hours before Australia’s Rohan Dennis stood atop the podium at West Park, Jim Horton leaned on a barrier, trying to describe the ride of a lifetime.


              
Wales' Geraint Thomas during the Men's Individual Time Trial Final at West Park in Wolverhampton on day seven of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Picture date: Thursday August 4, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story COMMONWEALTH Cycling. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire.


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Wales' Geraint Thomas during the Men's Individual Time Trial Final at West Park in Wolverhampton on day seven of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Picture date: Thursday August 4, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story COMMONWEALTH Cycling. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

Exhausted, yet exhilarated, the 46-year-old from Walsall had just made history as the first ever cyclist to represent the Falkland Islands in the Commonwealth Games, completing a taxing 23-mile time trial course around familiar roads unscathed in a time of one hour, two minutes and 45 seconds.

“That was hard,” he panted into a sea of tape recorders. “From the off my legs felt like jelly and never really recovered. It was tough, hot as well. It went by in a blur, really.

“I think I overcooked most of the corners, I was going way too fast into every one.

“But that is where the crowds were. People were cheering my name. It was fantastic, brilliant, particularly around Sedgley and Dudley and in Wolves. It was wonderful.”

The story of how Horton came to represent a territory 8,000 miles away, detailed earlier this week in the Express & Star, was always going to attract attention on a day which pitted some of the best cyclists in the world against unknown amateurs.

He was far from the only one with an engaging tale to tell. Christopher Symonds, the first man off the ramp at one minute past noon competing for Ghana and at 48 years of age, the eldest, is from Edmonton and a doorkeeper at the House of Commons.

Both enjoyed the experience significantly more than some of the more established names in the men’s event, most notably Geraint Thomas, who saw his bid for gold effectively ended before it began when he crashed while in the first few hundred metres leaving West Park.

The 2018 Tour de France winner had a slight grumble about a lack of proper reconnaissance when explaining the spill.

“You are used to seeing the course exactly as it is going to be on the day,” he said. “I did my recon on Wednesday night in traffic and there were no barriers at the time.

“I went in thinking it was a sweeping left and suddenly the barriers and legs are sticking out, it is like “oh, s***’. I almost avoided them. But didn’t.”

Without the hiccup, Thomas might well have bettered Dennis’ winning time of 46 minutes, 21 seconds. Ultimately, he had to settle for bronze, having just failed to pip England’s Fred Wright for silver.

Stone’s Dan Bigham, meanwhile, saw his medal hopes end in spectacular fashion when he crashed around 10 miles from the finish. The 30-year-old was sent flying over the handlebars after misjudging a corner, his bike wedged tight into the barriers.

Bigham, who finished the event on the bike of his girlfriend Joscelin Lowden, who had earlier finished 12th in the women’s race won by Australia’s Grace Brown, was thankfully largely unhurt and also able to see the funny side.

“I think the barrier came off worst,” he quipped. “Hopefully, I didn’t hurt anyone as there was a big crowd on the corner. I had a bit of a soft landing, to be honest.”

Asked if his bike had been recovered, he said: “Your guess is as good as mine. I had a quick look and realised it was not going anywhere, anytime soon.

“Me and Joss ride similar positions, so we can swap bikes pretty easy. My bike was her spare and hers mine.”

Bigham, who won silver last weekend on the velodrome in the team pursuit, had still enjoyed his day.

“It was unreal,” he said. “Last week in the velodrome the atmosphere was special but contained. It was like that every metre of the course.

“There wasn’t a corner where there wasn’t someone screaming and they knew their name. It was pretty magical, to be honest. I’ll have a lot of happy memories.”

Perhaps not so many, admittedly, as Horton. For him, the whole day had felt like a dream, incomparable to his usual experience of solo rides on open roads in the South Atlantic.

Shortly after finishing the course, he was back at the start ramp, this time as a fan to cheer Thomas on his way.

In what must have added further to the surreal experience, Horton found his warm-up tent stationed next to the two-time Olympic champion.

“I had a quick word with G yesterday,” he revealed. “I wished him all the best and he wished me all the best. I am living the dream really.”

It is not over yet. On Sunday, he will compete in the road race around Warwick and – perhaps emboldened by adrenaline – refused to rule out a surprise attack.

“My idea had been to do the first lap on my own and then burn out but I think I might get a fair bit of contempt from the cycling world if I did that,” he smiled.

“I will see how that works. I need to stay in the peloton basically. My design will be to leave the crowded peloton but if I fall out the back, it’s game over.”

Open events such as these will always have critics. Yet only the hardest of souls could begrudge the likes of Horton his moment. Wife Debbie and his four children were due to watch him in action on tape delay back home in Port Stanley.

“I think there is a place for the Commonwealth Games,” said Horton. “I think there is a place for amateurs who train hard and get to the top of their game.

“This is the place for it. There are other places for professionals. There are Grand Tours and world championships. This is a home for both. I think it works.

“I have done the best I can for my family, the Falklands, for all my family and friends who have been watching me. It has been wonderful.”

Thomas concurred. “They call it the friendly games, don’t they?” he said. “It has been good to mix with all kinds of different nations. There is such a great atmosphere. It is a great event.”

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