Thursday, 9 September 2010

Meeting Graeme Obree (Part I)

Last night, I spent a good amount of time with former World Individual Pursuit Champion and Hour World Record Holder Graeme Obree. I hired Graeme as a speaker for an after dinner talk and – as a result – got to spend a lot of time with him one to one. It was fascinating to meet him and I had so many questions, we spoke for about an hour in the bar of the hotel as I scribbled notes furiously.

Since getting into cycling over a year ago, I’ve read many biographies and The Flying Scotsman (his biography) was one of those that I really enjoyed. I saw the film on TV a couple of months back which I highly recommend you watch.

Reading the book and watching the film quickly established that his life had been full of adversity, serious challenges and – at times – failure. His well documented battle with mental illness simply goes to underline the strength and resolve he subsequently showed in breaking Franceso Moser’s record in 1993. I wanted to focus our time together on his cycling achievements, rather than his battle with bi-polar disorder.

Speaking to him, what strikes you about Graeme is his intensity. He’s either staring you steely straight in the eyes or looking the other way when talking. He’s a maverick. Outspoken. Single-minded. Opinionated. Highly analytical. Focused. Quirky at times. He’s been compared to James Dyson in the way he analyses problems and finds solutions, using first principles for solution searching.

Underneath all of this was someone who is a genuine person with an amazing story and a large dose of modesty and – after the initial nerves – we warmed to each other and relaxed. On many questions, he really paused before answering, considering details, asking that some responses not be published, for political (cycle politics) reasons. I agreed to this, so some elements of the conversation have to remain with me.

I’ve captured as much as I can from our time together. For me, I wanted to get inside the head of a world champion. To understand what it was that made him tick? To understand how we kept going, in the depths of personal and sporting despair when the odds seemed stacked against him? Earlier in the day I’d asked on Twitter if anyone else had a question for him, these are answered below.

Question via @leeboyman – Rumour is that he has a book on training coming out. Is it true? A – True. Graeme is planning a book; however it is not yet started. It’s the next big thing he plans to work on and ideally would like it done for the Spring 2011. The book will cover road cycling, time trialling, training and nutrition.

Question via @leeboyman - Can you ask him if it's true that he just trains on 'feel' ie no heart rate monitor or power? A – True. Graeme told me that his set-up is as simple as this. He has a turbo-trainer at home, with a big screw in it so that the position never deviates or moves. He uses exactly the same track pump, inner tube, tyre and tyre pressure to ensure that his bike set up is absolutely constant over a long period with no deviation. Then he looks to constantly improve every time he trains - sometimes by only 0.5%. Therefore, he trains by feel only with no electronic measurement. Amazing.

Question via @adamleadbetter - I'd like to know what he thought of the film version of "Flying Scotsman"? A – He enjoyed the film, however has only watched it once and doesn’t like to watch it. He was careful to remind me that this was a film, not a documentary. There are some factual inaccuracies; however – in the main – it is representative of his life. He enjoyed the emotional and evocative style and felt that the film has introduced his story to a newer generation.

Q – Do you think you could ride in a team? Are you a team player? A – Yes I could but only if people were as obsessed about results as I am. If people can’t give critical feedback about their performance or mine, then it would serve no purpose for me to be there and I would be better to ride alone.

Q – Do you think the press attention dubbing Old Faithful “the washing machine bike” was detrimental to your career? A – Yes, sponsors didn’t take me seriously at the time, it meant that most of my career I’ve lacked serious sponsorship. Many people have offered me alternative sponsorships of types over the years, but I’ve refused it as I felt it would compromise by ability to speak out or do things my way.

Q – Do you think you would have liked to have ridden the Tour de France? A – Yes. He cites in the book that the amount of doping at the time meant that he could not have ridden the Tour and felt as if he was competing on equal grounds. He would have ridden it if this was not the case.

Tomorrow I'll put up the second post which contains information about his diet tips, advice for new road cyclists and all of the other general information I captured. To be continued...

Update. Here's the link to the second part of the interview and other Obree related articles I've posted.

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