Applause which greeted Giacomo Agostini and Carl Fogarty at Sunday’s RST Classic TT Heroes dinner matched their status as racing legends. But it was a 50-year-old New Zealander who brought guests to their feet as his name was announced.
Bruce Anstey’s feat in winning Saturday’s Classic Lightweight TT was not only being acknowledged as being a great ride, beating competitors half his age, but an historic moment when he took on his great enemy, cancer, and came out on top.
The week before practice, Anstey had been in hospital receiving yet another session of chemotherapy. A scan had given him good news and he set off for the Isle of Man to take on another great challenge, the TT course.
Battling cancer is nothing new for Anstey. His first bout was a quarter of a century ago, it was cleared up and everything was well. Two years ago the monster, always lurking in the shadows, returned. But this man, probably next to Joey Dunlop the greatest road racer we have seen, never gave up although he had to call a halt to his racing career, in his mind a temporary one.
Saturday‘s victory has been called a miracle. Not so. It is the result of incredible will power and determination. But what else is there that drives him on?
“I just love riding motorbikes. That’s the bottom line. I just wanted to get back on a motorbike again. Four months ago I could hardly walk but I just set a goal to come here and race the 250. I worked away as hard as I could to get my fitness back,” said Anstey, speaking to bikesportnews.com.
“My present condition started two years ago although it started 25 years ago. It shouldn’t have come back but it did and confused all the doctors. I had chemotherapy all last year. Then I had to have another operation at the start of this year, removing lymph nodes from my chest.
That set me back again. I was trying to get back for the TT, to ride it when I was 50, but then I decided to leave the TT and come back here and ride the 250, the perfect bike for me. It’s nice and light, goes where you want it to. I just wanted to have fun.”
A year ago, in the middle of all his trauma, Anstey made a return visit to the Island to ride the 500 Yamaha on a demo lap. His pace surprised everyone but at the end he almost had to be lifted from the machine.
“Was I knackered? Yes I was. And last week I was in hospital having chemotherapy and I just flew straight over to the island and had a ride round. I think that was the best therapy I could have had.
“At the moment I am all finished with that. They have given me the all clear but they’re going to keep a real close eye on me. I’m on a new diet, trying to keep away from sugar and carbs. I’ve dropped the weight from my usual 75kg to somewhere around 70kg so I am fit and healthy.”
And what was his state of mind at this terrible time? Didn’t he ever think that he’d never ride again?
No. But actually at one stage about four months ago they were preparing me for the worst. It wasn’t looking at all good. Then something just clicked. My liver went back to normal, the last scan was clear and I was determined to get back here.”
That single-mindedness and determination has always been a hallmark of a rider who only performs a few times a year. It amazes every road racing fan and his competitors. How does he do it?
“I know. I’m surprised myself actually. I haven’t raced for two years. I jumped on the bike last Monday night and my second lap was 116mph. It just clicked and felt like I hadn’t been off the bike at all.”
New Zealander’s are known as a gritty bunch. Anstey started racing over there but in 1978 the family came to the UK, his mother returning to her homeland. His brother now lives near Glasgow.
“I’d always wanted to go racing over here, especially road racing. My first ever race in New Zealand was a street race at Whanganui but the goal was always to race at the Isle of Man. And it just seemed to click with me.”
And after this, what next? “I said I’d come over and see how it would go. I wanted to win a TT at 50 and now I have, not the TT but the Classic. I think Annie doesn’t really want me to carry on.
“I think she’s happy for me to do the Classic but not the TT. It depends on a number of things including my health. We’ll have a good think about it. But if I stop racing I’ll have to get a job. I don’t really want to do that.
“The support I’ve had from the Padgetts has been fantastic. It gave me hope, which I needed, when Clive said I could have a bike anytime I wanted to race again, and there was no pressure. He told me that if I wanted to come in after a couple of laps or I wasn’t comfortable just pack it and we’ll have a beer. I like that.”