“Oh well, nobody died,” says the Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree as he reveals how depression and his home-built bike wrecked his latest World Hour record bid.
Obree was intent on reclaiming the title he won twice in the 1990s later this month. But the 44-year-old came unstuck when his psychologist warned his mental health was too fragile.
The lanky Obree had self built a typically unique bike. With an enormous 67-tooth chain ring for speed, Reynolds 653 tubing and silver soldering, it was ridden with an extreme flat back style and extended arms.
Obree spent a year and a half training on the bike which worked brilliantly on the road. Despite his age he was clocking some promising times. Obree said: “I was just a smidgen short of the form that I had when I was racing Jason MacIntyre.” Friend MacIntryre was a triple British and Scottish champion time trial cyclist who was killed, while training, in 2008 by a careless driver. Obree says he was regularly beating MacIntyre two years ago.
Some thought Ayrshire-based Obree might just take the World Hour record for the third time. Two years ago Obree was riding sub-20 minute 10-mile time trials in Scotland.
But when Obree took to Manchester’s velodrome for a trial run in August it went badly wrong. Watched by former national British cycling coach Doug Daley, Obree’s bike proved useless.
“That whole riding style that I was reliant on to support your arms didn’t work on the bankings. And most of it is banking, let’s face it!” said Obree.
It was the end of the dream for the sponsorless former champ. Obree, who could have asked for help from British Cycling, had done things his own low-tech way. No sports scientists, no coach.
“If I had to go back to scratch and spend five weeks on the track, like Chris [Hoy] did, it would cost a fortune without a sponsor,” he said. “Then I became so depressed that I wasn’t allowed step up for it.” Obree twice attempted suicide in the past and has a history of clinical depression.
“I spent weeks under the duvet,” said the softly spoken rider. “I never had back up plans, I was so sure about the bike. A normal person would just have been bitterly disappointed but it went beyond because of who I am.
“I had to find out. I would have regretted it if I didn’t give it my best shot.”
But he says it hasn’t taken away from his achievements. Obree broke the World Hour record in 1994 with 52.713km and held the World Champion Individual Pursuit 4000m title in ’93 and ’95.
Speaking before his attempt Obree said: “If you have to win every race then there’s something not right about you. I don’t have any choice – once I started thinking that I could get onto that pace … I had to do it.”
Obree is now writing a book: A Survivor’s Guide to Depression, which will be packed with “good, solid advice”.
At least Obree can rest on his laurels, despite never receiving the recognition due to him.
“Muhammad Ali got his jaw broken but he’s still known as the best boxer ever,” he said.
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