PEZ Talk: Wilson Renwick – From Horse To Bike
Rider Interview: Not often you hear of a horse rider becoming a bike rider, but Scotsman Wilson Renwick has done just that. Renwick was a prolific winner over the jumps until he had to admit that there was a chance he would never recover sufficiently to return to race-riding after suffering multiple injuries in a fall at Market Rasen in 2015. Ed Hood got the full story.
On the face of it there doesn’t appear to be much of a correlation between being a professional jockey and a professional racing cyclist. But when you think about it; obsession with your weight, familiarity with high speed in close proximity to other athletes, lightning reflexes and living with the knowledge that sooner or later – you’ll land on the deck.
Scotsman Wilson Renwick was a top jockey on the UK scene, riding some 400 winners during his career but a bad fall at the Market Rasen race course in England in the spring of 2015 has seen him change direction. Whilst he was already riding the bike at amateur level in Scotland during his career as a pro jockey he’s decided that he’s going to devote the next year to try and make it as a pro cyclist.
Here’s what he had to say to PEZ, recently.
PEZ: How did you get into cycling, Wilson?
Wilson Renwick: Liverpool University did a study on jockey’s fitness and how we go about managing our weight. One of the tests was VO2 max [VO2 max is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute ml/kg/min, ed.] and I scored 90, which was the highest that George Wilson the doctor conducting the test had ever seen – he couldn’t believe it.
[The highest VO2 max scores are the preserve of the world’s best cross country skiers and professional cyclists; Norwegian Nordic skiing legend Bjorn Daehle is on 96; Greg Lemond was 92.5; Miguel Indurain 88; Thor Hushovd 86 and Lance Armstrong 84 – a figure which had Lemond questioning the Texan’s performances well before the storm finally broke for Big Tex, ed.]
He said that I should take up an endurance sport like running or cycling – I’ve done my ankles in knees in with accidents so running wasn’t an option so I bought a bike.
PEZ: The fact that you horse racing guys have to be obsessive about your weight can’t but help your cycling?
I’ve had to watch my weight my whole life and my weight varies very little, from nine stone ten to 10 stone all the time.
PEZ: But that fall last year means you’re no longer able to race as a pro jockey?
The fall was in May 2015; as well as concussion, I broke a vertebra in my neck, my collarbone, my jawbone and a couple of ribs, and they’ve all healed. But nerve damage in my left arm means some of the muscle has wasted away and I’ve lost power in it, which won’t come back, so that’s it. Nerves do repair to an extent but after 16 months the specialists reckon that the there’ll be little or no more improvement.
PEZ: Your fall and career change have attracted a lot of attention from the media.
Yes, I’ve had a fair bit of press. I rode a few winners [400 ed.] and it’s attracting attention because I guess it’s a bit of a ‘Vicki Pendleton in reverse’ – [Pendleton went from Olympic track cycling gold medallist to jockey, ed.]
PEZ: You must have been through a lot of physio?
Yes, two or three times each week but not initially – with fractured vertebrae all you can do is sit and wait on them healing.
PEZ: The inactivity must have been hard on your head?
It was difficult, yes; the first three weeks not so much because you’re in pain all the time but after that it destroys you mentally – and it’s hard to sleep because you’re not doing anything to get tired.
PEZ: How about your weight?
It shot up a little but came down again – I’m currently a little heavier than my horse racing weight but not by much.
PEZ: How do your injuries affect you on the bike?
It’s only my left arm which is affected and on the bike it does feel different – I struggle with my time trial position and can’t achieve the same power and have less neck movement. Every time trial I’ve ridden I’ve been disappointed with my power.
PEZ: Have you raced the bike much since your injuries?
I was injured in May 2015 and started racing the bike again in September of that year as a third cat. – by September this year I’d risen to first cat.
PEZ: You’re riding for Parentini?
Yes, my coach Iain Grant [former multiple short distance time trial champion, ed.] is selling their clothing in Scotland so my riding for them is to get the name ‘out there.’ The company has been around 40 years and is well known in Italy with riders like Giuseppe Sarroni racing and winning with it – and more recently, Denmark’s Lasse Norman Hansen won the London Olympic Omnium in Parentini kit. There will be three or four of us racing in Parentini colors in the UK during 2017.
PEZ: Iain coached you when you first got into the bike, didn’t he?
Yes, he’s done a great job in helping me get back to fitness – he’s a great advocate of training on power. The thing about training on power is that as well as seeing how you’re improving, you can identify weaknesses and look at why things are happening – like why did you get dropped at a certain point in a road race? I’ve always been strong in time trials but what we’ve been working on is my one to five minute efforts, they really matter in a road race.
PEZ: How’s the switch from time trials to road racing going?
I don’t mind time trials but I’m used to having other athletes around me – I like the competitive atmosphere you get in a ‘bunch’ situation.
PEZ: And it’s now, ‘all about the bike?’
I’ve pretty much set aside the next 12 months for full time bike riding. I want to put in a good winter and give it my best shot – I’ve never been into doing things by halves. I tried to get on board a Continental team so I could get into better quality races – but my age is against me, I’m into my 30’s now. I put my resumé about and got some favorable responses but the UCI rules make it difficult for a mature rider to get on board a Continental squad. But I want to see how far I can go – I’m looking into riding in Italy in the early season; it has to be warmer than racing in Scotland in February and March!
# PEZ will be keeping an eye on Wilson’s progress as the 2017 season develops. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,200 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.