Tuesday, October 26, 2021
HomeInterviewsMartin Coll - Part 2: "Graeme Obree was special, introverted - a...

Martin Coll – Part 2: “Graeme Obree was special, introverted – a genius…”


In part one of our interview with Martin Coll we discussed his career – but any chat with Martin wouldn’t be complete without mention of the times he spent with his brother-in-law; the legend that is Graeme Obree.

Martin became The Flying Scotsman’s manager, confidante, driver and personal assistant during the period when Graeme and ‘Old Faithful’ were much in demand on the continental boards.

Some said that your moving to the US was a result of your disillusionment when you and Graeme parted company?

No, not all – my wife and I had planned to move to the USA before the opportunity with Graeme came along but we shelved that when I began working with him.”

Martin Coll
Brother-in-law Martin and Graeme worked together. Photo©suppled.

How did the partnership come about?

“Graeme and I are married to two sisters, so we’re family.

“I picked Graeme up at the airport after he came back from Hamar and setting the Hour Record; we talked and I quit my job to work full time with him.”

What happened to make Graeme dispense with Vic Haines as his manager/mentor?

“I’m not sure but I think it was Graeme – he didn’t like the way things were going with Vic, he could see there was going to be pressure on him with the Media and he thought Vic’s ideas were more like those of a boxing promoter.

“And there was the aspect of Vic trying to force Mike Burrows’ bike onto him; but Graeme is a hard man to work with – very strong-willed.”

His first world pursuit title, 1993?

Doug Dailey (GB Track Team head at the time, ed.) picked us up at Hamar two days before the Worlds; two days later Graeme was world champion – a great experience.

“Graeme was very smart with how he paced his ride in qualifying, he was second to Ermenault there with a 4:24 and in the semis was against Chris Boardman, who he beat. Then he had Ermenault in the final.

“But right from the start he knew he was going to win.

“And of course, he took his second title in the ‘Superman’ position two years later in Bogota ahead of the Italian Andrea Collinelli – but we’d separated by then.”

Martin Coll
Martin helped Graeme with most things – but not the bike. Photo©supplied

Sicily ’94 was where he encountered the wrath of the UCI, wasn’t it?

That was shocking – it was victimisation.

“Hein Verbruggen, who was head of the UCI at the time, didn’t like Graeme so had his position outlawed.

“Verbruggen didn’t like that Graeme had ‘come from nowhere’ to take the Hour Record and the World pursuit title – he didn’t realise that Graeme had been involved in bike racing for a long time.

“I liked what Laurent Fignon said at the time; ‘you don’t become a world champion overnight’ he understood that there must have been so much work behind Graeme’s successes.”

Graeme was hot property on the European circuit at that time.

In Belgium, France and Italy he was huge… one of the biggest stars on the cycling scene at the time.

“I remember one time he was riding against an Italian team pursuit selection. They went through their full warm up to prepare for the ride whilst Graeme chatted to journalists before the start then rode one lap to get ready.

“He was always slow to start because he was riding that huge gear so the Italians were up on him to start with – but gradually he pegged it back and beat them by a hair.

“I remember one of the Italian guys being really upset after the finish, he was in distress from his efforts but most of all because he couldn’t understand how Graeme could just jump on his bike and beat an Italian national team like that.

“Graeme was getting contracts all over Europe at the time. I remember we were driving to a track in Italy and the traffic jams were terrible, Graeme said to me; ‘I wonder what’s going on?

“I said to him; “they’re coming to see you!

“The three main TV channels were there that day – Francesco Moser was there; we tucked his socks in his trousers and he rode a lap or two on Graeme’s bike; the crowd went mad!”

Martin Coll
A very Scottish celebration, alongside World Champion Obree, there’s Martin and mechanic Sandy Gilchrist. Photo©supplied

Graeme made appearances at the Six Days too…

“Yes, Graeme rode at every Six, often as an exhibition to challenge the track record because no-one wanted to go up against him.

“He established pursuit track records all around the Six Day circuit.

“I particularly remember in Geneva there was a “Boardman v. Obree” challenge pursuit and Gianni Bugno, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Maurizio Fondriest, Eddy Merckx were all there.

“The lights dimmed and Graeme and Chris came in under the spotlights with Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ playing – it was fabulous.

“In events like that the promoter decides who’ll win – they wanted Graeme to take it.

“Chris asked what the script was, Graeme just said to him to ride his own race, he was going to beat him whatever he did – and of course, he did!

“Then at the Grenoble Six Day; the ex-Tour de France winner, Bernard Thevenet was the organiser.

“Graeme was riding an exhibition pursuit against the top French pursuiter, Philippe Ermenault and Thevenet said he wanted a straight race – no ‘arrangements.’

“Graeme smashed the track record and caught the Frenchman – Thevenet just smiled and shrugged, he got what he wanted.”

But I believe Graeme could be hard work?

“Extremely hard work – he’d been involved with Phil Griffiths and Vic Haines previously but I don’t think either of them realised what they were getting into.

“He could switch you off and walk away; he was special, introverted, a genius – guys like that don’t want help.

“I wasn’t just his manager, I did the flights, the driving – Graeme didn’t drive – everything except anything to do with his training – he did that all on his own.

“He wasn’t like Chris Boardman; backed up by Peter Keen, sports science and technology – Graeme did his own thing in training.

“The same with his bikes – there was one. No spare, even at the Worlds.

“His starting effort on that huge gear used to deflect the rear end so much that the tyre would rub on the chainstays – we didn’t tell Doug Dailey about it, but the GB mechanic, Sandy Gilchrist had to change the rear tyre after every ride because the side walls were scuffed away.

“Then of course there was the time the bottom bracket broke off…”

Martin Coll
Graeme made many appearances on the Six Day circuit, with Martin supporting him, before turning pro – briefly – on the road. Photo©supplied

When did you part company?

“In 1994.

“He won the Worlds in ’95 with the ‘Superman’ position but after that things went downhill – he had demons, there was depression, a struggle with alcohol, and his brother died in a car crash.

“He came to visit us here in the US in a very depressed state.

“As I said, Graeme’s brain works in it’s own way, it makes him tough to work with – he can just drop people and move on.

“I think he’s in a better place now though – I come home once a year to see my family and we always catch up.”

And you’ve been in the States since 1994?

“Yes, there are great opportunities here, more so than in Scotland, we’ve built a good life here.”

With thanks to Martin. It’s easy to forget just how special Graeme Obree really was, it was nice to be reminded.

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.

Related Articles

Christina Mackenzie – Land’s End to John O’Groats Record Breaker!

Congratulations are in order as Christina Mackenzie became the fastest-ever woman to traverse the largest of the British Isles from it’s south western to north eastern tips. Christina, originally from the Isle of Lewis but now Stirling-based took time to speak to VeloVeritas a day or two after her epic ride.

Alan Hewitt

I wasn’t privileged enough to call Alan Hewitt a close friend but he was certainly a pal and on the infrequent – unfortunately for me - occasions I met him in recent years he would always greet me as a long lost brother with that smile, a hearty chuckle and a big, strong handshake. Alas, there’ll be no more of those.

John Archibald – on breaking the Scottish 10 Mile Time Trial record

It’s hard to believe that since I started cycling in 1971 nearly four minutes have been hacked off the Scottish 10 mile time trial record; when I started it stood at 22 minutes and 14 seconds: 1971  P.Templeton  (Dundee Thistle R.C.)  22 mins 14 secs. It now stands at 18 minutes and 38 seconds thanks to that man John Archibald (Pro Vision) - a time he achieved this morning on the fast dual carriageway tarmac beside the River Clyde at Westferry.

Mark Stewart – Looking Back at the Tour de Yorkshire

Scotland’s British Points Champion and World Cup Team Pursuit medallist, Mark Stewart was in action in the recent Tour de Yorkshire, building endurance for his next track campaign which centres round the European U23 Track Championships in July. We thought we’d best have a word with the man ...

Neah Evans – European Team Pursuit Champion

If you check the palmares websites, Neah Evans' name first pops up in 2015 – just four years later and she’s performing at world level in ladies track cycling as part of the GB ladies team pursuit squad; with her most recent successes coming in the European Team Pursuit Championships and Glasgow World Cup where her squad took gold on both occasions.

John Paul – World Junior Champion

Scotland doesn't get too many World Cycling Champions-so when John Paul won the World Junior Sprint Championship, it was something special. 'Juniors?' I hear you say... The team pursuit in the Junior Worlds was won by Australia in a time of 4:02 and the man Paul beat in the sprint semis, Max Niederlag of Germany did 9.899 in qualifying. Those are seriously quick times.

At Random

John Archibald – 12 seconds off a podium spot at the British 25 Mile TT Championships

It’s not a lot of time is 12 seconds; around 250 metres at the speeds they go at these days; but that’s what separated Scottish 25 Mile Time Trial Champion, John Archibald from the podium of the CTT National 25 mile championship in Wales on Sunday. That had to be the first question VeloVeritas asked; "Could you have found those seconds, John?"

One More Sleep! time for the TdF 2010 to Start

One More Sleep! time for the TdF 2010 to Start. We are at the end of Day -1, which is the point where the whole team just want things to start already. Admittedly I’ve been in that mood since Tuesday afternoon when I headed out from the team Service Course in Girona. Now everyone else has joined me in night-before-Christmas-as-a-seven-year-old land.

The VV View: What are the Odds? Team Sky, Brad and Dave Millar

I hope you all had a good Xmas; Viktor didn't - but that shouldn't surprise us. He did make a good point though - namely that Sky are well behind with their training camps; all of the big squadra have had one, if not two camps already. From a fitness and bonding point of view the digital vision guys are behind the eight ball already; it'll be interesting to see if that makes a difference come flag dropping time.

Joe Nally – in France for 2021, with Team Elite Restauration 89

Joe Nally is a resilient lad. He's gone out and got himself a ride with French Division Two équipe, Team Elite Restauration 89 based in Toucy for season 2021. Not a bad move in our opinion; the French scene may not be as strong as it once was but it’ll certainly provide more and better racing than Joe would have access to in the UK.

Giro d’Italia 2016 – Stages 19, 20 and 21; Kruijswijk’s Crash, and Nibali’s Resurgence

Kruijswijk's crash, would you have waited? Wee Esteban says: "I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today." Either way, it was a horrible crash - the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn't look like he even tried to steer round that bend. Ed rounds up the last three stages roadside.

Gran Fondo Scotland; social and scenic cycling with pals, pasta, and a piper!

Foregoing my usual Saturday night at the movies I set the alarm for 05:00 am, reminded myself how much I like being in the Trossachs of a Sunday morning, sighed and switched off the light. Davie thought we were leaving his house at 06:45 am not 05:45 am - but we were soon on our way along the Hill Foots en route the Gran Fondo Scotland - Summer Edition.