Cycling: Obree finds ecstasy after stuttering start: Scot and his home-made bike nearly make early exit. Robin Nicholl reports

THE presence of Graeme Obree drew the biggest crowd at the Herne Hill track for 22 years yesterday, but the world champion came within inches of a quick exit before more than 2,500 spectators whipped by hail, rain and a blustery wind.

They had come to see the Scot and his celebrated home-made bike take on seven other riders in a 10-minute pursuit race, the discipline at which Obree is No 1 and the world record- holder. Each competitor started at 50- metre intervals around the track, with the intention of catching the riders ahead of them and covering as many laps as possible.

Obree, starting in the home straight, was caught off-guard when Nick Gritton, starting behind him, closed up on Obree's back wheel in the first 200m, threatening to eliminate the main attraction.

He stayed there for a full 450-metre lap before Obree broke free to produce a winning distance, 7.650km, and later send an autographed photo of himself to Gritton, with the message: 'Thanks for not ruining my day.'

'I had to sprint to get Gritton off my back wheel. The race was hard going, but it was a good opener for my lungs,' Obree said. 'This is possibly the last time, apart from my world record attempt, that my bike will be seen in action.'

On 6 May he expects the Union Cycliste International, the world governing body, to outlaw his 'nose- over-the-handlebars' riding style so Obree is attacking the world one- hour record in Geneva and Bordeaux later this month.

Richard Hughes, of Wales, spoilt a grandstand finish by Obree in the Golden Wheel race over 22km. The Scot broke clear in the last three laps but was beaten to the line by Hughes.

HERNE HILL TRACK MEETING (Herne Hill, London): 10- minute pursuit: 1 G Obree (Sco) 7.650km; 2 R Hayles (Haverhill); 3 C Ball (Haverhill). Champion of Champions sprint final: M Huebner (Ger) bt D Lemyre (Fr). Third- place ride: S Brydon (Sco) bt P McHugh (GB). Points: 1 T Doyle (Futurama) 45 pts; 2 R Williams (Butler Cycles) 22; 3 J Snodin (Invicta-Dale) 10. White Hope Sprint: 1 N Laughton (Halesowen); 2 N Potter (Tameside); 3 M Osman (VC Eclipse). Golden Wheel race: 1 R Hughes (Wal); 2 G Obree (Sco); 3 A Forbes (CT Nevada).

(Photograph omitted)