"Over time, we realised he wasn't really grumpy, he just took a little while to warm to people - in our case, about six years."
1993 has become known as the year in which the cycling world hour record once more raised its eager head, with two british riders vying for the top step of a singular podium as the individual who covered the longest distance in sixty minutes. it was this flurry to overtake the record held by francesco moser that divided a nation. well, sort of. if you lived north of the border, placing the bulk of your completely partisan support behind graeme obree was almost compulsory, while those south of the imaginary line favoured the gold medal individual pursuit winner at the 1992 barcelona olympics, chris boardman.
this competition, verging on the local, despite being played out between hamar in norway and bordeaux in france, effectively coloured the way either obree or boardman were perceived. to me, boardman was the scientific and allegedly well-funded alternative to the maverick scotsman who was undertaking the cycling world's blue riband event on a shoestring. i have to admit that, since those days in the early 1990s, i have always viewed chris boardman with what i thought was a healthy dose of circumspection.
it seems i was wrong.
most recently renowned for his cycling advocacy and advisement to certain sections of the uk government, chris boardman first came to celebratory public notice aboard mike burrows' carbon creation adopted by the lotus car company. it was this machine that aided the brit's individual pursuit victory against germany's jens lehmann at the barcelona olympics.
"I was going to win. 'No you're not,' said a voice in my head, 'that's what sports stars do, you're just a bloke from Hoylake.'"
i cannot deny that the above quote and many self-deprecating references throughout the book came as a bit of a surprise. boardman's persona both in print and on tv mostly comes across as confidently self-assured and it's these little snippets throughout 'triumphs & turbulence' that foster a subtle admiration on behalf of the reader. at least for this reader it did.
as is the case with the majority of traditional autobiographies, chris informs us of his early days living on the wirral, his ascension to cycling prowess by way of the 15 year-old participating in the 1984 regional track championship (the very year that robert millar was wining polka dots in france) on a dave lloyd frame supplied by his first coach, the renowned eddie soens. the latter had been asked to take an interest in boardman's progress by his father, because...
"...towards the end of 1983 I'd climbed off mid-race for no other reason than I thought I was going to lose."
scarcely the antics of a future gold medal winner and hour record holder.
obree's hour record attempt in hamar, only one week before boardman's own scheduled attempt at bordeaux (to coincide with the arrival of the tour de france that same day), must have been somewhat of a blow to months of careful planning. boardman's attempt was based on his overtaking of moser's record; now he would only have a week to re-assess the situation if obree went considerably. yours truly's scottish prejudice, as i recall, was that obree's having a go a week earlier was something of a wizard wheeze. but in retrospect, even though both were trying to attract the attention of world cycling's movers and shakers in the most high profile manner either could conceive at the time, it now all seems a bit underhand.
boardman deals admirably with the situation in print. "Graeme had a growing public image as the man who ate jam butties and drank beer before 'just going out there and doing it'. [...] My indignation wasn't really founded on ideas of fair play, though, it was emotionally driven. I felt threatened. Graeme's athletic credentials were beyond question."
with the hour record debacle behind him, though the subsequent attempts are dealt with later in the book, the story continues with boardman's professional career, joining roger legeay's gan team, where he fulfilled his promise as a winner of time-trials and prologues. in the course of this vocation, he acquired more than just a single tour de france yellow jersey along the way, though notably losing it the day prior to the tour's visit to england in 1994. triumphs and turbulence is about real life, though it contains more than its fair share of realised dreams.
i dare say it says more about a reader informed by the present day obsession with illicit substances in cycling than boardman may have intended in his narrative, yet the demise of his relatively brief career all but encourages a reading between the lines. "Based on my form-to-results ratio from previous years, I'd expected to reap big rewards. But despite being both lighter and stronger - every cyclist's dream combination - I seemed to be using all of my increased power output just to cling on to other people's wheels. In time-trials, my winning margins were being eroded - or erased."
more modern day boardman encompasses the cycling advocacy previously mentioned, pre-dated by the boardman bike brand exclusively distributed by halfords. there is also the virtually immediate success garnered by nicole cooke aboard the marque in the beijing olumpics women's road race. oddly, though i think the timeline would have allowed for its inclusion, there is no mention of his recently selling the brand to halfords outright.
there is a wealth of intrigue and more intrigue surrounding the secret squirrel department at british cycling, intent on providing british cycling athletes with the very best of the very best in the quest for gold medals. chris dispels one or two myths that have surrounded the goings on in the cupboard under the stairs (my words, not his) and his surprise that success at the london olympics demonstrated britain's international rivals to have scarcely heeded the secret squirrel strategy.
"I'd thought we'd made a rod for our own back in Beijing by showing just how much technology could enhance performance. It had seemd like an invitation to the opposition to spend the next four years emulating the GB approach, so I'd come to London expecting to see a much closer contest. [...] To my mind, this was tantamount to negligence on the part of their national associations..."
'triumphs & turbulence' at first approach seemed an odd title for the autobiography of one of british cycling's heroes (if i'm allowed to append such an epithet). the turbulence aspect may be slightly overstated, though undoubtedly relevant, while the triumphs have been many, both athletically and personally. despite living through those turbulences, chris and his wife sally have happily remained together as parents of six children. these 325 pages are a superb testament to his personal and sporting career.
it is notable that boardman's skill and expertise obviously extend beyond his ability to assess the technicalities of nano carbon fibre, precision componentry and wind-tunnel tested lycra, even though his story mostly apportions greater credit to others than to himself. it is rare nowadays for successful sportspersons to actually sit down and write their own autobiography. but with triumphs and turbulence not only has chris boardman demonstrated that his writing skills are every bit the equal of his cycling prowess, but that he has an impressively dry wit, lifting his story well above the mundane, both in content and accomplishment.
"We tried one of the company's prototype portable hypoxic chambers in my home office. [...] I trained, slept and watched TV in this rarefied atmosphere for up to 12 hours a day over a period of more than eight weeks. Regular physiology testing in the run-up to the record attempt told us that the innovative training technique enhanced my eventual performance by absolutely sod all."
'triumphs and turbulence' by chris boardman is published by ebury today 2 june.
thursday 2 june 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................