`Superman in flight' at full stretch

Robin Nicholl sees Scotland's ex-world pursuit champion, Graeme Obree, try another new style

It is all a question of position with Graeme Obree. He wants to be world No 1 again, and paraded his new riding style for the first time at London's Herne Hill track yesterday as he opened his quest to regain the world 4,000 metres pursuit title.

He was rudely robbed of the crown in Sicily last August because of his controversial racing position, which he dared to try in the opening round after it had been outlawed by the world governing body, the Union Cycliste International. In 10 months it had earned him two world hour records and a world title, but in steamy Palermo it brought disqualification.

Obree's position became more embarrassing in January when, four days into his contract, his new French team sacked him. They alleged "lack of enthusiasm", but Obree claimed that he was tired and ill.

Yesterday, in the unaccustomed Easter heat of Herne Hill, a re-positioned Obree had to settle for second position in a 10-minute pursuit race against another professional, Rob Hayles, but dismissed defeat as "a temporary blip."

Hayles, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist and triple British title- holder, started in the opposite straight to Obree but after seven and a half minutes of the race, in which six other rivals had been eliminated, Hayles caught his man.

An elated Hayles, nursing a knee injury, went on to win the Golden Wheel finale to the international meeting, but Obree left determined to prove his new style, which he likens to "Superman in flight."

Gone are the stubby handlebars on which he almost rested his chest in the position of a downhill skier, and produced a racing position that the racing hierarchy deemed "dangerous."

Now, on a conventional racing machine with triathlon bars, Obree rides with his arms at full stretch. "I am going to persevere with this position. What happened at Herne Hill is just a temporary blip at the start of my programme to regain the world title or retake the world record.

"I don't take a small thing like this too hard. I don't want to be fit too early especially as the world championships are in October.

"I am always worried about the first race. I have not raced like that since November and now I have to build up my fitness. I rode in an early race and that made my legs heavy, so I could not fully exert myself in the pursuit. I should have been gasping at the finish but I was not."

Now cycling's rebel with a new cause heads for Manchester Velodrome where tomorrow he takes on a team of four in a pursuit match. Nothing unusual for Obree. He is used to fighting against the odds.

SOUTHERN COUNTIES GOOD FRIDAY MEETING (Herne Hill, London): Champion of Champions sprint final (best of three rides): M Nothstein (US) bt M Hbner (Ger) 2-0. Third place: C Percival (GB). Gold Wheel race (22km): 1 R Hayles (All Media Services); 2 R Williams (Butler Cycles); 3 B Taylor (Bournemouth Arrow). Keirin race: 1 Nothstein; 2 Hbner; 3 A McMath (T S Tameside-Cygma). Handicap: 1 M Osman (CC Eclipse); 2 McMath; 3 N Campbell (Port Sunlight). White Hope sprint: 1 McMath; 2 G Hobson (Chesterfield Coureurs); 3 Osman. Points race: 1 B Steel (Chilwell-Magna) 17pts; 2 Williams 13; 3 S Whitcombe (Wal) 12. Women's sprint: 1 W Everson (RAF CC); 2 S Boyden (Swaledale-Caygill); 3 G Danson (Ratae).

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