Cycle Heroes August 1, 2011

British Cycling Heroes - Chris Boardman

I have only met 'The Professor' once, in a car park during the RIDE24 event. My wife and a couple of friends had come to support us and we were saying our farewells when I realised that Chris Boardman was changing about 2 cars away. I said to Kayren 'That's Chris Boardman' and she ushered me over to say 'Hello'. Given that the poor bloke was mid changing he took my random introduction quite well, although he offered my some advice "Never shake the hands with a man whose had his hands down his trousers,'" Fair enough, though we shook anyway. We exchanged pleasantries and wished me well, I got a few photos taken and that was that. I had seen him a number of times on the Television, commentating on the Tour but not actually in person. He was shorter than I expected but still in pretty good condition. His calves looked useful. Alittle while later I saw him ride round Goodwood Motor Circuit, followed by a few folks who were drafting him. He cycled for a couple of hours, looking very comfortable. Certainly not out of breath.  Actually he looked effortless, spinning round the track whilst everyone else slogged their hearts out to keep up. Granted, Chris was cycling 'fresh', but his class showed through. Having done a couple of interviews with the 'host' of RIDE24, he stayed until the end and presented the prizes to the eventual winners. 

What struck me most was the fact that here I was, shaking hands and talking to a British Olympian. Not only that someone who had help shape British Cycling into the phenomenon that it is today. What's more, he's not that much older than me....Born 26th August 1968, Chris Boardman, MBE, is married with six children. He lives on the Wirral peninsula in place called Hoylake. Chris Boardman heralded a new era of success in British cycling when in 1992 he won Olympic Gold in the 4 km individual pursuit at the Barcelona Games with his iconic Lotus Sport carbon fibre pursuit bike (see previous bikebritain article, This was also Britain's first Gold Medal in the discipline in 72 years and made Boardman a household name. He returned to the Olympics in 2008, but this time out of the saddle; Boardman lead the GB Cycling R&D team and in doing so became the most successful sporting team Britain had ever produced, winning 14 medals (8 Gold, 4 Silver and 2 Bronze as well as finishing top of the cycling honours table.)  

In terms of his cycling achievements, Boardman is an Olympic Gold Medalist, multiple World Record holder, Grand Tour stage winner (3 times during the Tour de France) as well as earning the coveted yellow jersey again on three separate occasions. I've mentioned his nickname, 'The Professor' already, labelled as such because of his meticulous attention to detail during training and expansive technical knowledge (making him an ideal lead for the GB R&D team prior to Beijing Games). In the late 80s and early 90s Boardman dominated the UK scene, winning four consecutive hill climbing championships, 5 consecutive 25 mile championships and a couple of 50 mile honours for good measure. Boardman began his professional career as a time trial specialist with the GAN team, later known by you and I as Credit Agricole. He won his first race as a pro rider, the 1993 Grand Prix Eddy Merckx, a 66 km time trial. Boardman again hit the headlines in 1994 when he clocked the fastest ever recorded time in the Prologue, though lost the yellow jersey in the team time trial. His record in the Tour has been criticised; Boardman has cited low hormone levels which caused him to suffer more than most from the rigours of day by day racing as a reason for not achieving more wins.  A series of good performances in the 1997 and 1998 were marred by crashes in both races forcing him to quit. Then, with the onset of Osteopenia, (forerunner of Osteoporosis) diagnosed in 1998 (a disease affecting bone density) Boardman was forced to take testosterone - despite it being a banned substance under cycling's doping rules. This signalled the end of Boardman's professional cycling career. He continued to race for a further few years, culminating in his participation in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the time trial. He finished eleventh. 

His record as a professional rider only tells some of the story. Boardman is as famous for his duels with Graham Obree over the Hour record as his wins on the Tour. With both men modifying their respective time trial bikes, Boardman put his technical knowledge to maximum use. Although the Union Cycliste Internationale eventually ruled that the record attempt had to be made using a bike of traditional geometry, Boardman again proved he could take up the challenge - beating the 28 year old record set by the great Eddy Merckx in 2000 - by just 10 meters. 

It's strange the way things are portrayed when you start reading around the achievements of some people. My impression of Boardman's career was one characterised by some outstanding performances, but one that was never fully explored to its full potential. Whilst that may be true, there are not many people who can claim to be an Olympic Gold Medalist, record breaker and a successful businessman - like he can. Nowadays Chris makes his living from a variety of activities. He is an established journalist and is regularly seen on Television, working as a commentator on major cycling events. Boardman also sat on the National Cycling Strategy Board and found time to launch Boardman Bikes one the fastest growing cycling brands in the UK. He is also a pretty useful runner - clocking 3 hrs 19 minutes 27 seconds in the London Marathon. Something else I won't be challenging him on. 

So I'll see you in the car park at the next RIDE24 event Mr.Boardman. Just wash your hands this time! 

World records 

1 Hour track time-trial, 23 July 1993, Bordeaux, 52.270 Km 

1 Hour track time-trial, 7 Sept 1996, Manchester, 56.375 Km 

1 Hour track time-trial, 27 Oct 2000, Manchester, 49.441 Km ("Athlete" rules)

'Chris Boardman: Why I had to give up cycling at the age of 32' by Mark Anstead, 15th November 2009, mailonline

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