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From the Archive: Graeme Obree breaks the world hour record

It's been 20 years since Graeme Obree first broke the world hour cycling record. To celebrate, we're taking a look back at the life and career of one of Scotland's greatest sportsmen.

In action for GB at the UCI world track championships in Palermo
In action for GB at the UCI world track championships in Palermo

Born in 1965, Obree's career has been an inspiration for Scottish cyclists, including Chris Hoy.

The two time world hour record holder, who was named BBC Sportscene personality of the year in 1993, developed a keen interest in cycling as a youngster and regularly won senior races as a junior.

Driven by a fear of failing and inspired by the hour record set by Francesco Moser in 1984, Obree went on to break the record using his own ‘crouch’ position, which was banned twice, on a bike he built himself.

He is currently developing a bike called 'the Beastie' which he hopes will break the human-powered land speed record.

Obree first broke the world hour record, covering a distance of 51.596kms, on July 17 1993 on his bike, 'Old Faithful'.

The Ayrshire rider said: "When I broke the hour record it was my attempt to meet the expectation to feel worthy as a human being. I felt total relief when I head the gun go off, meaning I had passed Moser's distance.

"It was the sound of a glass ceiling shattering – no matter what happened after this, I would still be the person who broke the hour and no-one could take that from me."

However, his record was taken from him six days later by English rider Chris Boardman, who had a well-publicised rivalry with Obree in the mid-1990s.

Obree realised that he was a serious cycling contender on the world stage after Boardman won gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

He said: "After Chris won the Olympic gold it made me realise we were both cycling at a very high level because we rode against each other many times and sometimes I would beat him."

However, while Obree was pursuing dead-end jobs and building his own bike, Boardman was backed by a team of sports scientists, psychologists and bike builder.

Obree said: "The thing about Chris was that he was organised. His approach was totally structured which allowed him to build that team about him. He built on his successes and then put himself forward as an ideal employee so that he could compete in the Tour de France.

"On the other hand I just thought about getting the hour record. Once I got that I didn't know what I was going to do. I had no career path at all.

"Chris Boardman was the author of his own destiny, so there has never been any resentment on my part."

After Boardman broke his world hour record in 1993, Obree went on to take the World Pursuit title, an award he would win again in 1995.

He broke several British records in his professional career, won seven British titles and regained his world hour record in Bordeaux, France, in April 1994, covering a distance of 52.713kms.

However, a chance comment made to a journalist during an interview meant the rider would become more famous for his association with a kitchen applicance than his achievements on the track.

Obree, who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder after retiring from professional cycling, said: "The biggest regret of my career is mentioning to a journalist that there was a bit from a washing machine in my bike.

"Now forever I will be remembered as the washing machine guy."

Obree wrote his autobiograph, The Flying Scotsman, in 1993 and the book was turned into a film, starring Johnny Lee Millar, in 1997. The film opened the 60th Edinburgh International Film Festival.

However, despite his achievements, Obree says that he regrets not following Chris Boardman into professional peloton.

He said: "The thing that frustrates me most looking back on my career was not being able to ride the Tour de France. I would have loved to have ridden the prologue and I think I would have had a good chance of winning it."

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