Chris Boardman has played a pivotal role in the success of British Cycling in a period spanning four decades but after the London Olympic Games he will step aside from his position as a technical adviser and look to pursue new projects.
And while Great Britain’s success on the track continues at apace in London, with hyperbole surrounding their marginal gains and vast, talented, support staff, it’s a contrast to the days in which Boardman raced.
As a rider he shot to world wide fame with a gold medal at the Barcelona Games in 1992, before going on to break the hour record on several occasions. Three Tour prologue wins decorated his road career before his retirement in 2000.
In 1992 there was no lottery funding, no inner chimps and certainly none of the ‘hot pants’ the British team have today. Just one man, his aerodynamic track bike and a crack support staff.
“There was me and Peter Keen. There was also Doug Dailey who in fact still works on the logistic side, very hard I might add. That was it though, which was both our strength and our weakness in the sense that we were fascinated by understanding a performance. In our own way that was our first marginal gain, trying to understand a performance and what was the most important bit,” Boardman tells Cyclingnews.
“So, for example, we looked at aerodynamics, and why hadn’t anyone else looked at positions because that’s more important, even if it costs you power. So that was our focus before we took that into the pro road world.”
Several Games, and a large investment of time, money and talent have seen Great Britain become the grade setters in a majority of track disciples and it’s a ride that Boardman has been able to witness first hand, as part of the “The Secret Squirrel Club”, or Research and Development to those not in the know.
“It’s come a long way. I think with strength in depth more than anything else. I was reflecting on it this morning on the way to the velodrome and I can’t think of another sport where not only have you got high performances in every event, and not just the events, but each individual. That’s quite some coaching that you’ve managed to get all of the athletes on peak form on a given day.”
“Even Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, who have had long careers are setting PBs in training and that’s quite something.”
Modestly, Boardman leaves it to others to debate whether his Barcelona rider acted as a catalyst to the improvements Great Britain has made on the track in the intervening years.
"I don’t feel it’s for me to have an opinion on it. It’s an observational thing and it’s very nice that people link that time to now but I’m always hesitant to try and detract from what’s going on now and how much work they’re doing on every single detail and it’s amazing to see what effect it’s having.”
“But now they’ve expanded that out massively. The downside with Peter Keen and I was that part of our passion was also in our arrogance. The two of us loved coming up with the answer and our own egos perhaps got in the way there because there would have been people on the outside and information that we could have used but we didn’t let anyone in. We squeezed the most out of us two but we didn’t incorporate anyone else and I think that’s the level that Dave [Brailsford] has brought forward really.”
Boardman who is at the Games commentating for the BBC expects the British to be competitive in every track event after breaking world records during the first two session and winning several goals. But Boardman has his sights on the future, beyond the Games, where new possibilities and new opportunities await.
“What a way to go. Thanks very much,” he says.
“This eats your entire life and you’ve got to put as much into it as they put into it and I just want to do other things in life. I’ve got six kids, other business interests and diving is a primary passion, and I enjoy riding my own bike which I’m not getting to do that often. I’m just looking forward to taking the world load back to 90 percent, where I’ve been at 150 per cent for the past two years.”