British Cycling has recruited motorsport engineer Professor Tony Purnell as new head of technical development for the Great Britain Cycling Team as it looks forward to the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Purnell, who pursued an academic career at the Cambridge University after securing his master’s from the Massachussets Institute of Technology, went on to found a company, Pi Research, specialising in race car performance analysis tools and control systems.
After selling it to Ford, Purnell continued to manage the business and in 2002 became team principal of the Jaguar Formula 1 team and later spent five years as Technical and Strategic Adviser for the motorsport governing body, the FIA.
Currently, he is a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at Cambridge, and will continue to undertake that role on a part-time basis in addition to his new job with British Cycling.
Speaking about his new role, Purnell said: “British Cycling is an exciting organisation to work for – their elite performance record is as good as any in any sport, it’s a tough challenge to maintain such a standard, yet alone better it, but that has to be the goal.
“I intend to spend the next two or three months meeting the people across all areas of the team and understanding what has been done in the past.
“After that well I just hope to be able to suggest a good direction for the future that delivers the goods.”
Purnell himself is a keen cyclist – recently, he won his first race as a Cat 4 rider, the Fleche Welwyn.
Sir Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s performance director, said: “We are very fortunate to have some of Tony’s experience and ability to work with the riders and coaching staff.”
“We know that sustaining success is among sport’s greatest challenges and the recruitment of Tony is a significant step on the road to Rio.”
Chris Boardman, who stepped down as British Cycling’s head of research and development after London 2012, will continue to act as consultant to the Great Britain team.
Prior to the Olympics last summer, Boardman regularly travelled to UCI headquarters in Switzerland to clear new pieces of kit that Team GB planned on using in London.
Nicknamed the “Secret Squirrel Club,” British Cycling’s technical development team enjoyed a moment in the spotlight as those innovations helped the country to eight Olympic gold medals on the road and track.
L’Equipe picked up on comments by a member of the French team’s staff that although they tried to get a good look at the kit their rivals were using, the wheels would be put away after each race.
That led the newspaper to pose the question whether they were “Mavic or magic,” with Brailsford deadpanning in reply that the wheels were, in fact, round.
Sir Chris Hoy’s father David, perhaps not quite in the spirit of the Auld Alliance, said at the time: “You've got to upset someone. It might as well be the French.”