christine mclean interview

christine maclean after the long-winded introduction, i didn't want you to have to listen my continual droning about the wind and ferries, without putting it into a perhaps, better perspective. and for those of you who are geographically challenged, shetland is scotland's, and thus britain's, most northerly island - it usually appears in a box along with orkney, its more southerly neighbour, sitting in the north sea on the weather map. in fact, shetland is midway between norway and scotland.

and you thought you had it hard...

how long have you lived on shetland?

I moved to Shetland in 1991 so it's actually the longest I've ever stayed in one place as I joined the Merchant Navy and went to sea when I was 16.

what took you there in the first place? (and don't say 'a boat':-)

Work took me to Shetland; bringing up children and continuing a career at sea is virtually impossible. My job here as port controller in Lerwick harbour maintains my links with the maritime world, yet allows me to go home after every shift.

are you a life-long cyclist, or is this a more recent activity?

I have always owned a bike and always enjoyed cycling, but up until recently would classify myself as a casual cyclist. Following the birth of my last child I had some trouble walking without pain and after two or three years of tests, the cause was tracked to my hips. I was advised that surgery would be necessary to replace the joints however as I was still relatively young for the procedure I was advised to take up a low impact sport to maintain my mobility in the mean time, so in 2003 I bought my first real road bike. The rest is history; within a few months I dispensed with the painkillers and the x-rays show no further deterioration. I covered just over 10,000miles last year and have five much loved and ridden bikes in the shed. So now it's become a little more serious!

are you a naturally competitive person?

Until I discovered cycling I had never really competed, and didn't consider myself a sporty person at all. But I was brought up with the ethic that if anything is worth doing, it's worth doing properly, so that's probably where the competiveness stems from.

are there many 'real' cyclists on shetland?

If the definition of 'real' cyclists are the ones that are mad enough to ride and train out doors all year oblivious to the conditions, or turn up for the ten mile time trial despite the 30kph cross wind, then with membership of around 20, the local club, Shetland Wheelers harbours the majority of them. I have my suspicions though, that there are a few more potentials out there to be encouraged and enticed. Carlos Riise is probably our most well known competitive asset and someone I for one, draw huge inspiration from. There is a strong competitive element encouraged by participation in the Nat-West Island Games, last year hosted by Rhodes with venues of Aland, Isle of Wight and Bermuda to look forward to.

what drives you to 'push the envelope', so to speak, because it would surely be easier to just cycle round shetland?

The opportunity to represent Shetland at the Island games last year gave me the drive to train hard. I put a lot into the preparation as I really wanted to do my best. Winning several Scottish and a couple of National medals in the process of training, was very satisfying and encouraging; now the knowledge that I'm still improving is incentive enough to keep pushing. I also really enjoy cycling and feel fantastic for it.

christine maclean

how long does it take to reach the mainland by boat?

Travelling to the mainland port of Aberdeen by ferry, takes between 12 & 14 hours, depending whether you go via Orkney. Flying takes an hour to Aberdeen or 1hr 20m to either Glasgow or Edinburgh. Flying is getting cheaper, though still relatively expensive compared to flights on the mainland, and if you book early enough then it can even work out cheaper than the ferry. Of course the down side of flying is the packing up and reassembling of the bike, as well as the risk of damage due to 'baggage-handler rage' which I have first hand experience of!

how has your family adapted to your 'nicole cooke' emulation?

I reckon that it's more a case of them being resigned to the fact that I go away cycling rather than having adapted to it. I do find this side of things difficult, because I know it puts extra pressure on them all managing without me and I certainly wouldn't be able to do this without their co-operation. I just hope they know how much I appreciate it. At least the children seem to have got over the embarrassment of Mum in Lycra!

do any of them cycle?

All the family own bikes, but don't appear to be tempted to try anything too strenuous. My oldest student daughter zips around Edinburgh on two wheels, and has been known to create mayhem leading 'critical mass'! My Dad was particularly keen on cycle-touring and longer distance stuff, as well as competing in grass track racing, so maybe something's in the genes.

from a cycling aspect, what's the worst thing about living on shetland?

The weather is definitely the worst thing from a cycling perspective, particularly the ever present wind. Also the lack of other cyclists to cycle with, I suppose.

and the best?

Quiet roads to cycle on, and pleasant scenery to cycle through...and the wind when it's behind me.

are there many, or any, cycle shops on the island, and are you happy to carry out your own repairs?

No real cycle shops here, just a garage that sells bikes. Probably my upbringing again but I am always happier to be able to fix something myself. Packing up the bike to travel south on a regular basis means that I am on quite intimate terms with it, and have gained the confidence to tackle most jobs... I'm still always surprised when I fix things successfully.

is the island big enough to allow a century ride without criss-crossing the same roads?

Shetland is quite a collection of islands; the mainland is about 75 miles long, although no wider than six at any point. There are plenty of smaller loops off the main north to south road, so I think a century ride is possible. I live at the very south of the mainland and cycling to visit friends on the most northerly island of Unst involving two short ferry journeys, and a transit of the island of Yell, clocks up about 80miles.

i find that visitors to islay find the winds a bit fiercer than they had anticipated. i take it you share this experience? do you find yourself with more resilience and stamina when racing on the mainland, after training in shetland headwinds?

The wind is ever present and it's very easy to believe that it holds something personally against me! I admit I do tend to treat it like an opponent and take on the challenge of up to 40kph headwinds, feeling a huge sense of achievement when I complete the 30km ride to work. The prize, of course, is the exhilarating tail wind for the return. However, there are those days when the wind doesn't play by the rules, veering and waiting to finish you off on the return leg! Crosswinds are the worst, and squalls full of hail and horizontal rain - I was blown off in a squall earlier this year and just felt really indignant. Despite forever moaning about the conditions I'm sure it actually benefits the training, adding extra stamina and resilience when competing.

Incidentally my work was not at all supportive about my cycling to work, they maintained it was dangerous, but bizarrely the two issues they brought up did not involve the wind... one objection was 'how do you manage to see in the rain?', the other was that there was not enough 'ambient lighting'. They also stopped my mileage allowance unless I took the car. Needless to say I still take the bike for the majority of the time.

do you prefer road racing or time trialling?

I prefer time trialling to road racing, mainly because I don't get the opportunity to improve my road racing skills; a bunch of more than two is difficult to find here! Last year I made a point of entering several races to gain experience for the women's road race in the island games. I ended up doing alright, with a bronze in the Scottish women's championships, gold for the women's road racing series in Scotland, and finished 8th in the bunch sprint at the Games. I've decided, however, to concentrate on time trialling for the time being - it's less dangerous!

how long will you continue to pursue your cycling around the uk and the world?

I love what I'm doing and as long as I get enjoyment from it, I'll continue.

are there any plans for a world cycle tour?

I have a touring bike at the ready in my bike shed, ready for the day I decide to take things easier. I also have a route worked out via Norway, our nearest neighbour, to Gibraltar.

any cycling heroes?

Female cycling heroes include Beryl Burton and Jeanie Longo. christine maclean I admire riders such as Lance Armstrong and Graeme Obree, who have struggled against adversity in pursuit of their goals. In addition, much of my inspiration has been gained from meeting up with a wonderful group of people whilst training in Majorca . Doug Petty's Majorca68 group is full of cycling heroes from 18yrs to 80+.

money no object, which frame/bike do you buy?

At the moment, money no object I would go for a Cervelo TT frame... in pink.

this interview was posted on saturday 17th may. the following day, christine e-mailed to let me know that she returned home with the silver medal for the scottish 10tt championship and what looks like the scottish women's vets record. i believe congratulations are in order