Here’s something you maybe didn't expect!
Sometime in 1990, Graeme Obree broke the British hour record with a distance of 46.390 kms. On the way to breaking the hour record he also broke the 10 and 20 km times with 12 mins 43.31 secs and 25 mins 35.66 secs respectively.
At the beginning on 1991, when I was riding for Raleigh, I sat down with Mike Breckon (Raleigh's Marketing Services Manager) to discuss my contract for the coming 12 months and what we thought would be achievable objectives. While I was quite happy to carry on going for RRA records (as I thought there was still room for improvement in some of those I’d already taken) Mike asked if I’d ever ridden the track … and if I’d like a go at (initially) Ian Hallam’s professional 10km and 20km records and, more ambitiously (because they were faster), Obree’s amateur 10km, 20 km and 1 hour records.
I’m not sure how I was convinced to have a go (good Lord … both Hallam and Obree are God’s aren’t they?) … but I did!
I wintered pretty well over 1990 – 91 getting in 2818 miles before my first race on 23 February. Because I was on bonuses for race wins I continued to race a lot … in fact I won 56 races in 1991 … the most wins I’ve EVER had in any season.
We had a track bike built and Geoff Cooke was taken on board to help with my preparation. The
first visit to the track was on 8 May. The venue was Saffron Lane, Leicester … a 333.3 m outdoor
track some 60 or so miles from home. Each training session would be done after a 5.40 am
start … an 18 mile each way ride to and from work … then an hour + drive to Leicester for an hour
or so’s session starting at either 8 or 8.30 pm (depending on who was using the track beforehand).
I wasn’t getting home until 10.45ish. I’d be doing one session a week … sometimes two. Looking
back now, I realise why it was I always felt so tired!
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or whether I actually had any chance of breaking any
records. Geoff always seemed very upbeat about it all so I totally relied on him … and believed in
him 100%. I spent a lot of time doing MANY laps of the track behind Geoff (on the motor bike). In
fact most of the training was just that. Again, I didn’t know if it was fast enough but Geoff seemed
to know … so I listened to him!
All my training sessions were recorded in my diaries and looking back some of them must have
been pretty brutal ... 36 mph and increasing on 53 x 16 until I blew for example.
A second bike was built as the first was found to be a bit short in the top tube and too low at the
front end. Campag Ghibli discs and Continental Olympic Bs were ordered … which kind of
suggested to me that both Mike and Geoff thought there was some sort of possibility that I could break (or at least get near to) some of Hallam’s and / or Obree’s records. I still wasn’t entirely convinced though.
A date was set (initially 12 June but later postponed due to bad weather until 27 June) and Mike came up with some more (better than ever!!) bonuses … the icing on the cake being an offer to fund an attempt abroad IF I broke Obree’s hour record (I can’t quite remember if it was at altitude or not … but it would have meant going somewhere nice so I was up for it!).
By the time 27 June came around I’d already won 35 races. I’d done three 19 minute 10s and a middling 49 minute ‘25’ (this was in 1991 remember!). I’d got 9618 miles in my legs and most of my rides were being finished off with 10 to 15 minute spins on the rollers. I’d had 14 evening track sessions at Leicester and, all in all, was in pretty good condition … but tired!
On the day of the event I got up even earlier than usual (at 5-05 am) to do an hours ride before motoring to work. I
took half a day’s leave so I could leave early to rest up a bit before driving over to Leicester. Having said that,
whether or not the attempt would take place at all was in serious doubt as the day was plagued by heavy showers
from mid morning onwards. It was even raining when Tony Cork (my ‘mechanic’ during my time with Raleigh …
more of a friend and a bit of light relief it must be said!) and I left for Leicester at 5.45pm.
For a bit of moral support, a few other friends from the St Ives CC followed in Gerry Hanks’s (from Richardson
Cycles, 7 The Broadway, St Ives) van.
The rain only started easing up as we approached Leicester but the track was wet enough for those who had
booked the track before us to abandon their session. Mike was in touch with the local met office and reckoned
we’d have a small ‘window of opportunity’ sometime after 8-30 pm … so that’s what we aimed for.
Diego Magio (anyone remember Deem sports products? Well that was Diego’s company. Diego was brilliant!)
rubbed my legs and I then went out for a quiet ride on the road for 20 minutes or so. My legs were ‘embrocated’
and I finished my warm up on the track. We (or Geoff) decided that I’d ride a gear of 55 x 16 and use Ghibli front
and rear discs shod with Conti Olympic Bs.
Everything bar my own confidence was in place. I still had absolutely no idea what I was capable of though … or
how I’d fair.
8-45 pm and I was ‘off’.
I started off ‘superbly’ (that’s what my diary says anyway) and it was all very much ‘in control’ from the very first pedal stroke. I was on the borderline between feeling very good one minute and very bad the next but it shifted so quickly from one to the other it wasn’t THAT bad. Geoff was doing the ‘piloting’, providing the throttle by ‘walking the line’ and telling me what to do each time I passed him. All I was doing was supplying the engine. Without Geoff it would have been one almighty cock-up I’m sure.
I was apparently up on Obree’s records from the start although I didn’t know that at
the time as I was concentrating so hard and listening to Geoff’s advice all the time.
Once or twice during the ride I could feel the occasional drop of rain but the laps
quickly passed and before I knew it I’d gone past the 10 km mark and was still moving
well. As I approached the 20 km mark it was (I must admit) beginning to get a bit
uncomfortable and despite all the concentration my mind got a little bit ahead of itself
and started questioning the sense in going beyond the 20 km mark (and into real pain)
with the possibility that I might ultimately have to abandon due to the rain.
Just after crossing the 20km line I pulled up the track and called it a day. Within 15
minutes the heavens opened and the track was totally unrideable. Good call eh?
My times? 12-35.2 and 25-26.9 … and together with a handsome four-figure cash
bonus I was naturally a very happy chappy.
Okay so hardly earth-shattering times bearing in mind what everyone is doing these
days but considering I was a complete track novice before the attempt, it was an open
air track AND it was Messrs Hallam’s and Obree’s records I’d just beaten, in my eyes,
and on reflection 22 years later, it wasn’t a bad showing.
Of course it wouldn’t have been possible without Mike and Geoff and I've always been
grateful for all of their help and encouragement in helping me achieve something I'd
never even considered attempting in the past.
If I never said so then ... thanks guys.
The first visit to the track with Geoff (left) and Mike (right).
Photo by Phil Mynott.
Into the unknown ... and not a wagon in sight!
Mid-ride pedalling at somewhere in the region of 106 rpm ... something I never thought possible (for me!).