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'The Professor' talks the importance marginal gains
The pit areas of several teams are enveloped in an almost secretive atmosphere at the UCI Track World Championships in Melbourne. The Olympic Games are now only months away and the stakes are high. Chris Boardman today announced that he will no longer work with British Cycling, as he has done since the Athens Olympics. He was responsible in part for Team GB's great leap forward in competition, but said leaving was not an easy decision to make.
There are other elements to life that Boardman feels deserve his attention – his six children, his business, scuba diving. Cycling he says, "sucks up your entire life" and it's now time to do other things.
"I wouldn't be doing them [British Cycling] justice if I stayed because it needs your heart and soul and I've found it tough to keep that commitment from Beijing to now," Boardman told Cyclingnews. "But once I started on that next cycle I had to sort of see it through really.
"I've told Dave [Brailsford] and I've told our chief executive Drake, it's just that you can't live on the front line. And I've been on the front line for nine years and then 15 years as a rider.
"I'm going to miss it because I'm quite emotionally attached," he admits. "I don't think the athletes always see it but you feel a real responsibility to make that our performance is matching the amount that they're putting in, and this is their career."
Boardman was given a mandate by British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford after the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 to go out and look at what came to be called 'marginal gains' – everything that isn't physical or tactical; the understanding of aerodynamics.
At first, Boardman found that the results from his aerodynamic testing weren't being taken up. The key he says was to bring athletes through the wind tunnel, and get them to pursue the elements that they were interested in.
"We fed information back to them in a language that they understood, with speed or power, and then they changed behaviours off the back of it," Boardman explains. It's one of the achievements from his time in the role as the Head of Research and Development.
"Ask anybody here, 'what's your energy expenditure?' and most of them will know that 90 per cent of your effort is pushing air out of the way," he says. "They were making aerodynamic decisions based on hearsay or what they read in a magazine [before] – that's unbelievable."
The results were plain for all to see at the Beijing Olympic Games where Team GB dominated the competition, winning 14 medals. Given the results from Melbourne this week so far, the growing consensus is that it's not a dominance that will be repeated.
"I expect every event to be hard for them and I think you've got a little bit of a cameo here," Boardman agrees. "You can see what's going to happen. It's the strength and depth.
"Clearly there's a lot of countries here that have thought about skinsuits now, the Germans have got new stuff on, the Australians... there's new thinking and you can see it," he continues.
"With the research that we've done over 10 years, we can see when there's more considered thinking going into shapes of bikes and stuff like that. And I can see that in Germany. I can definitely see it in Australia, there's been time spent in wind tunnels with positions – and so there should be. But you're also seeing New Zealand and to an extent, Canada. I think everybody's just pulled their socks up and realised that the marginal gains aren't necessarily always marginal and they've caught up."