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Vic Haines – “I was pissed off with Obree, but I’m not now”

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Vic Haines
Vic Haines.

Vic Haines – does the name ring a bell?

If you’re into time trialling you’ll know him as a long-term sponsor in English cycling and a multiple tandem time trial record holder.

Closer to home you’ll recognise him as the man who organised Graeme Obree’s successful Hour Record attempt in Hamar, Norway.

But his controversial ‘split’ with Obree came not long after the Scottish phenomenon had eclipsed Italian legend, Francesco Moser’s record – with, according to Haines, the new Ayrshire Hour Record holder due him a lot of money.

We thought a chat with the man might be worthwhile…

You were a cycle speedway rider originally, Vic?

“That’s a long story but yeah, me and my mates started messing about at a local track, some of the officials got wind, came to see us and I started racing in the local league.

“My dad managed me, took me to races in his van and I won the British Junior Championship.

“I got more serious, joined a big team – Tottenham, and as the only sponsored cycle speedway rider on the circuit won 39 Grand Prixs.

“But my friends started taking the pee; ‘you’re OK goin’ round in little circles but what about real races?’

“In those days you road everything, road, time trials, the lot.

“I entered an inter-club ’25’ on the Saturday and did a 1:06 – I was so shattered I feel asleep after it.

“My wife liked the idea of time trialling; it was a lot safer than speedway – that was like rugby on wheels and often ended up in a punch up – but she wasn’t keen on me coming home and going to sleep in the chair!

“The next day I rode an open ’25’ and recorded a 56:20 on a road bike – and that was the start.”

Vic Haines
Vic showing great style on the inside line at the Nationals. Photo©supplied

Vic Haines
Vic and Les Howell head towards National 10 Mile Tandem Competition Record. Photo©supplied

What about the tandem obsession?

“Because I’d gone OK in that race I got invited to join a club which had a couple of good tandem crews as members.

“I’d never ridden a tandem before but one of the guys, Les Howell said to me; ‘my mate is sick, do you fancy riding the tandem with me?’

“I said I’d give it a go – that was in 1979 – we did a 19:26 on a pre-war Claud Butler to establish comp. record.

“Eventually I started my own team and got into this tandem business – we did 20 rides in the 18 minute bracket, breaking the record twice, with John Pritchard in 18:17 in ’88 and 18:11 in ’89 and I knew a 17 minute ride was on the cards.

“We promoted a ’10’ on the A12 – that’s a big, fast road – and Chris Worsfold and I did 17:58.

“Cycling Weekly heard and rang me to say that we’d only managed it because the course was so fast – so Anthony Stapleton and I went down to the Hungerford course and did a 17:54 on horrible roads – Cycling Weekly didn’t report that one.”

Vic Haines
Sean Yates and Vic at speed, heading for another record. Photo©supplied

And you had the tandem ’30’ record with Sean Yates.

“Yeah, he asked to join my club; ‘Team Clean – Fresh Start’ – he won the National ’50’ for us and we rode tandem and two-ups together for ten years.

“We did 56:48 for the ’30’ with the first 10 miles straight out in 14:08.”

Vic Haines
Vic and Sean enjoy another record. Photo©Vic Haines

Who makes the best tandems, these days?

“I’ve ridden Chaz Roberts, and Cliff Shrubbs, but currently it’s a titanium Reilly.

“Mark Reilly used to be with Omega but builds under his own name now, it’s a nice machine.”

Vic Haines
Vic encouraged Francesco Moser to get into tandems too. Photo©supplied

I heard that you and Moser were going to go for the world tandem hour record?

“I was riding Masters races for the Jewsons team and the Tour of Britain organiser, Alan Rushton said to me; ‘why no world hour tandem record?’

“I asked who the heck I could do that with and he replied; ‘Moser!’

“I was dubious because I’d been instrumental in Graeme breaking his Hour Record but I asked Jamie Burrow (ex. pro who was a teammate of Lance Armstrong’s and who held the record for the Plateau de Beille climb, ed.), who’s based who’s based in Rimini and fluent in Italian if he speak to Moser for me.

“So we approached him at his vineyard and he wondered what I was after – if you’re famous, people always want something from you – but Jamie explained it to him and we started training together on the track at Brescia.

“He’s still a hugely popular figure, we had thousands turning up to watch us train.

“The trouble is that because he’s such a wealthy guy he can’t get insurance to cover him for the ride – that’s why it’s never come to fruition.

“But we’ve become close friends, I stay at the vineyard, we go for a meal – he speaks a little English, I speak a little Italian and I use the translation app on my phone – which he finds hilarious.”

Vic Haines
Vic and ‘Cecco’ Moser have become good friends through their tandem racing. Photo©supplied

Graeme Obree – how did the connection come about?

“The first thing to say is that it seems like I’m pissed off with him… I was – but I’m not now.

“He got in touch, wrote to me told me what he wanted to do but that he had no money.

“So I said I would help him, we looked at his training and got Mick Burrows involved on the bike.

“He wanted to go for Ekimov’s amateur Hour Record but I said; ‘why not go for Moser’s record? Even if you miss it you’ll still beat Ekimov’s distance’.”

Vic Haines
Graeme Obree in his Leo RC kit with Alan Rochford’s shop as sponsor. Photo©supplied

“We helped him with his financial woes to take that pressure off him. We got him stronger with good training and began to put things in place for the bid: track hire, timekeepers, the UCI timing and dope control… and I spoke to L’Équipe to get a journalist up to Norway to cover the attempt.

“The bike which Alan Rochford built for him was like a spaceship, beautiful with all the carbon and mono-blade fork.

“But Graeme decided to drop the front end and raise his gear from 52 x 12 to 54 x 12.

“I said to him that we knew from tests he could break the record and that dropping the front end would affect his breathing, push his stomach up into his lungs – he wouldn’t have it but when he went the first time on the new bike you could see he was struggling. The gear was too big and his lungs were restricted by the new position.

“So when he went the next day on the old bike – which was a mess.

“The UCI regulation is that you have to have two identical bikes ready for the bid – at our hotel I had the Rochford bike set up with spotlights on it looking the business, with ‘Old Faithful’ tucked away – no one looked at it and the bike was approved.

“If they’d looked at it I don’t know if they’d have passed it – it was in such a state.

“When we started the project he said to me; ‘if you pay for it all and I mess up, I’m sorry – but if I make it, I’ll pay you back for all your help.’

“But after the success his family smelt that he had the opportunity to earn money and decided that they should cut me out because ‘I was controlling his life.’

“The thing with Graeme is that he’s bi-polar, someone has to take charge and because I’d run businesses that’s normal for me.

“If he rang me tomorrow and said he had another idea for the hour then I’d help him – I like the bloke and we had a good time.

“But I backed him when no one else did; if you backed Boardman then you were backing a winner – with Graeme I was taking a chance even though he did have a big chest and a massive engine.

“That film, ‘The Flying Scotsman’ makes it look like he did it all himself – but Graeme couldn’t have broken the record without my help – but that’s Hollywood.”

Vic Haines
Graeme’s thank you to Vic just after his famous successful Hour Record. Photo©Vic Haines

Were you there when he did his big UK time trial rides?

“The day before the National ’50’ in 1993 he’s riding a ’10’ down there in Kent on the Q10/30 Reculver-Monkton course and it’s blowing a gale.

“A friend of mine who has a few quid says; ‘what’s he going to do? ‘

“Graeme tells him he’s going to ‘roll round’ to a ’19’ to loosen his legs off for the ’50’ next day – the record was an ’18’ at the time.

“My friend says; ‘Graeme, if you break comp. record, I’ll give you a grand, cash.’

“To which Graeme replies; ‘that wind has just disappeared!’

“He did 18:27 to break the record and lift his grand.

“The next day the ’50’ is in Kent too, the Q50/1 Harrietsham if I remember correctly, a tricky course with 18 roundabouts.

“Matt Illingworth had been to two Olympic Games – he climbed off, 13 minutes down on Graeme.

“Graeme caught former ’25’ Champion Martin Pyne for 20 minutes and beat Stuart Dangerfield by seven minutes, ending with another comp. record:  1:39:01.

“It was just madness with him…

“The ’25’ Champs on a hilly course at Exeter with Boardman the man to beat… Unknown to me, Graeme has removed every second spoke from his front wheel, filled the holes with Poyfilla and painted the rim black.

“He took two bikes down with him, a fixed machine and a geared one – I’d asked Alan Rochford to come as our mechanic.

“So Alan’s putting the gear bike together and the rear mech comes off in his hand – when Graeme built the frame he tack welded the hanger on but hadn’t gone back and finished welding it properly.
I told Graeme what had happened, he didn’t bat an eyelid; ‘it’ll be the fixed bike then!’

“In the race his front wheel started to wobble all over the place and Boardman beat him by 10 seconds with Dangerfield third.

“The next morning at breakfast he says to me; ‘I had a nightmare last night. I dreamed that Boardman beat me by 10 seconds for the ’25’ title!’

“So I said, ‘that must have been horrible, Graeme!'”

Vic Haines
Graeme is certainly a unique character, in so many ways. Photo©Vic Haines

What keeps you motivated now, Vic?

“That hour tandem record, but not with someone like Wiggins – a vet, someone over 60 like me… Moser, if we can make it happen!

“I still have it in me – I can still produce 400 watts and my resting pulse is 38.”

We were going to suggest; “why not with Graeme”, but …

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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