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Roddy Riddle – Taking on the Marathon des Sables, the 6633 Ultra, and Beyond

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We were chatting about the Scottish Hour Record the other day and it got us to thinking about Roddy Riddle’s 1995 ride of 46.570 which broke Graeme Obree’s 1990 ride of 46.390 – and lasted one year until Jim Gladwell established the current best of 46.650 in 1996.

What’s Roddy up to now?’ we mused – the last we heard he was running across the Sahara in the Marathon des Sables.

Transpires he’s participating in the 6633 Ultra.

The what?

Best ask him…

Tell us about 6633 Ultra, please Roddy.

“The 6633 Ultra is a non-stop self sufficient 352 miles of gruelling terrain starting in the Yukon.

“The race will cross the line of the Arctic Circle and will continue on the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk.

“The eight day race will see us competitors carrying our own provisions including food, cooking items, clothing, sleeping kit and other safety gear.

“This kit is towed behind each athlete in a Pulk which is a sledge with wheels.

“This year the race starts on March the 11th.”

Where do you get your ideas for what’s next on the ‘adventures list’?

“When I finished the Marathon des Sables (MDS) I felt I needed to do another major event to raise awareness for what can be achieved living with type 1 diabetes and for me the obvious one was to do the opposite of the MDS and go and race in the extreme cold.”

Roddy Riddle
Roddy takes the Marathon des Sables in his stride. Photo©Animas

How do you go about getting sponsorship?

“I am very lucky to have a great back room team behind me like Animas who make my insulin pump, they do a lot to help me.

“My diabetic specialist dietician James Moran who I met in Loughborough at a type 1 sports weekend where I do a presentation each year secured sponsorship from High5 energy products and Armadillo Merino base layer products who supply NASA contacted me offering to sponsor me with their products, if it’s good enough for NASA it’s certainly good enough for me.”

It must have hit you hard when you were told you had diabetes – what was your ‘coping strategy?’

“When I was diagnosed I bought a treadmill so that I could learn in a safe environment what exercise did to my blood glucose levels and after a period of time doing this I had the confidence to go into the hills running.

“My motto is ‘Rule type 1 diabetes, don’t let it rule you.'”

Have you ever thought about contacting Phil Southerland who runs Team Novo Nordisk (formerly Team Type 1)?

“When I decided to run the MDS I contacted Phil via email offering to run the MDS for Team Type 1, unfortunately I didn’t receive any sort of reply which in hindsight probably has turned out best for me as I have a great network of people who I can rely on at any time for advice and support.”

Tell us about your Marathon des Sables participation.

“I decided to do the MDS to raise awareness and money for type 1 diabetes (I raised £27K) in 2013.

“I nearly wasn’t on the start line due to the medical staff at the race concerned with my medical saying I had type 1, eventually I managed to convince them I wouldn’t cause any problems to the organisation.

“During the race I only had a slight issue with my blood glucose dropping halfway through the longest 48 miles stage when it was +52 degrees, a couple of sports gels later and I was off again.

“When I came home from the race I downloaded my Continuous Glucose Monitoring data to be surprised that during each stage apart from the slight blip during the long stage my blood glucose levels were within a person without type 1 diabetes range.”

Roddy Riddle
Roddy taking the queen stage at “the Girvan”. Photo©supplied

We have to talk about your bike career – Girvan; two stage wins, the last Scot to win stages, tell us about those.

“I loved riding the Girvan where I’m pretty sure I’ve finished 4th on GC, twice.

“The first stage I won was a nice day for the time of year, it was the longest stage over 100 miles and I managed to get up to the break with another two riders, the break stayed away and coming down Henrietta street to the finish line I was on Matt Illingworth’s wheel who was getting a lead out from teammate Chris Boardman.

“Just before Matt started his sprint he came off the 12 sprocket onto the 13, I stayed in the 12 and managed to get round him.

“My second stage win was the shortest stage the Saturday evening criterium, again it was a break which I started after only a couple of laps, it was a close sprint between myself and Bill Nickson junior.”

Roddy Riddle
Girvan 2000, Roddy makes the break in the Saturday evening criterium which he won. Photo©supplied

The Ruban Granitier in France, top 10 with some handy boys in there, what was it like?

“The Ruban was generally a windy stage race based in Brittany, the year I finished 9th on GC I also finished 3rd on a stage just in front of Holland’s Jeroen Blijlevens, the sprint was won by Candido Barbosa from Portugal.”

Roddy Riddle
Roddy takes a superb win in the 1990 Ràs. Photo©supplied

And a Ràs stage win – in front of Tour Down Under and Route Du Sud winner, Patrick Jonker…

“By far my favourite race which I’ve ridden six times finishing 4th on GC twice.

“The Ràs was the most aggressive race I’ve ridden as to be up there on GC you had to be in the break every day.

“The 1994 edition where I finished 4th behind Declan Lonergan I was away with American Jorge Espinoza on the penultimate 182km stage and passing Sean Kelly’s house just outside the finish in Carrick On Suir I was leader on the road, we both stayed away but the Irish had everyone in the group behind chasing, I eventually finished 40 seconds behind Declan on GC.

“My stage win was the final stage in Dun Laoghaire where I got away with Patrick Jonker who although Australian was riding for a Belgium team.”

Roddy Riddle
1994 Commonwealth Games and Roddy is marking Phil Anderson. Photo©Barry Harcourt

The Commonwealth Games road race, a top 10, could it have been higher?

“1994 was the first year the Games were open to professional riders which definitely made a difference to the quality of the field.

“I don’t think I could have done much more to finish higher than 9th so finished content enough considering the riders on the start line.

“I also road the 40km points race having not been on a track for 13 years, team manager Aldo [team manager, Alan Hewitt – ed.] asked me after the road race, I had to borrow Stewart Brydon’s bike and managed to finish on the same lap as the winner.”

Roddy Riddle
Roddy (r) in action during the 1994 Commonwealth Games road race, working hard in a chasing group with Matt White, Mark Walsham and Matt Postle. Photo©supplied

The Scottish Hour Record; wasn’t it daunting to go after an Obree mark?

“I didn’t really look at it that way, I spoke to my coach Richard Davison and he thought it was doable with the correct preparation.”

Tell us about your preparation for the bid.

“I did a lot of work with track specialist Ivor Reid; we did a fair bit of travelling from Inverness to Edinburgh to train on Meadowbank velodrome.

“Ivor had me doing standing starts and lots of various distances at record pace.”

What about the bike you used?

“I was on a Reynolds 653 frame which I got the tubing from the BCF as I was a member of the British road squad and Charlie Ralph from Alves Framesets built it for me; I had clip-on tri bars, disc rear and tri-spoke front wheels.”

Roddy Riddle
Looking comfortable in 1995 during the successful Scottish Hour Record attempt. Photo©Davie Urquhart

Was it as sore as everyone says – what were those last ten minutes like?

“I can’t remember much about the last 13 minutes; I used to time trial at a average heart rate of 174bpm and during the hour I averaged 182bpm.

“I was ill for about four weeks afterwards.

“What Eddy Merckx said about it taking a year of your life could well be true, in my opinion it should come with a Government health warning!”

Did you never think about basing in Belgium or France as a young rider?

“I nearly did after finishing 9th in the Ruban – I was spotted by a French professional team ran by the Simone brothers, they contacted Gerry McDaid [the then-Scottish Cycling Union President – ed.] to get in contact with me about signing for them but when they found out I was 26 years old they dropped any interest of signing me.”

What comes after 6633 Ultra?

“I’ll spend a good bit of time with my family. My oldest boy Alasdair who is 11 years old got a road bike from Santa, he’s ‘keen-as’, so after the 6633 I’ll be digging the bike back out to get a kicking off him!”

Any regrets about your cycling career?

“I wish I got the opportunity to ride the Milk Race.

“After doing well in the Girvan British road manager said to me if I did a good ride in the Ruban I would get a ride for GB in the Milk Race, I finished 9th and faxed Doug Dailey straight after the finish but unfortunately he didn’t receive it.

“I also got asked to ride the Tour de L’Avenir until they found out I was a few days too old so ended up riding for GB at the Hanson Tour in South Africa.”

With thanks to Roddy and wishing him all the best for the 6633 Ultra.

Check out Roddy’s website for more details.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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