Another summer gone and another British success story at Le Tour, as well as our annual opportunity to win 'His and Hers' Boardman bikes. In The Race Against Time Edward Pickering takes us back 20 years to find out just how success began for British riders and also Uncle Chris's bike empire.
The Race Against Time dissects the rivalry between two peculiar men for the hour record, a few of the characters surrounding them, and the spin offs and the resonances for British cycling's fortunes the Hour record created.
If reading about two compulsive obsessives going very quickly around and around a track doesn't grab you I don't blame you. I wasn't expecting it to be fascinating either, but having seen the film of The Flying Scotsman with Stephen Berkoff hamming it up beautifully as an Anton Differing style Hein Verbruggen I was prepared to give it a whirl. Surprisingly it was even more entertaining and bizarre than Mr Berkoff.
Next time you watch Chris Boardman in his sensible pullover analysing a Tour de France stage with all the expressive vim of a driving test examiner explaining your failure points it's worth remembering that this was a man who was, in his youth, riding right along the ragged edge - both mentally and financially - all for the sake of racing against the clock.
Time trial, as Pickering admits, is 'to cycle sport what prog rock is to modern music. It's a dorky subsection of the form, populated by obsessives outside the mainstream'. Boardman and Obree were certainly nerdy; they still are today, but the technical and physiological advances both riders made in their struggle to go faster than anyone else and then faster than each other is the bed rock of modern pro cycle training and also adds another embarrassing chapter to UCI history.
It's interesting to find a certain Mr Verbruggen finding more and more desperate reasons to ban Obree's brilliant technical advances in position and frame set up, even after everyone else including Boardman were emulating the innovations. On one occasion Obree elegantly satisfied the UCI's ruling that 'the tip of the saddle must be 50 millimetres behind the centre of the bottom bracket' by putting the saddle as far forward as it would go and then cutting its nose off.
Then there's the relationship between Boardman and Peter Keen. Keen was the forerunner to Brailsford who really started the wheels rolling for British track success but is now more famous the the one who doesn't have a knighthood but should. Keen and Boardman's hard work on how to use wattage as a consistant marker for performance culminated in last year's marginal gains win by Wiggins. Wiggins 'won the time trial and time trialled the hills' to win the Tour and his success was a direct legacy of Boardman and Keen's analytics on how to produce every watt of effort.
It isn't just the elusive Peter Keen who is re-interviewed. There are the largely unsung but key figures such as Doug Dailey, the BC National Coach, who supported both riders and coached Obree while Keen looked after Boardman. Along with Keen, Dailey was instrumental in nurturing cycle talent and building the personal support ethos which is proving so successful today. There's also the original secret squirrel Mike Burrows 'a visionary engineer with seventies hair' - and perhaps a casualty of resin fumes - who first tinkered with carbon fiber in the early 1980's.
'We were going, 'Shit! Ooh! Stuff!' Burrows recalls enthusiastically. 'What can we do with this?'
Burrows was dismissed by a puzzled cycle manfacturing industry who couldn't comprehend the moncoque frame with no centre triangle space that he was showing them.
'They said, 'Why did you cover the frame up?' 'I didn't cover the frame! This IS the frame!' I got nowhere. They were as thick as shit the lot of them.'
The old adage that history is written by the victors is, unfortunately, often superseded by the adage that states that history is written by those with the cash. It explains why Simon Cowell is 'a genius' - rather than someone who just rehashed Opportunity Knocks and got very lucky.
In a similar vein Lotus took an awful lot of credit for making Boardman's bike - just as Formula One were credited two years back for for creating Cav's winning bike. In truth what happened was that post Olympic gold at Barcelona in 1992 Boardman was so skint (in those days cereal manufacturers couldn't see the relevence of cycling in general - let alone track cycling) he had no bike to use for the hour record. Both Lotus and Halfords - who also owned one of Boardman's Olympic bikes - refused to lend him theirs. How things change. Well sort of... Although Lotus are still struggling with Noddy cars at least Halfords have shown a little more interest in Boardman in recent years.
All in all it's a fine read, although being reminded of Boardman's proclivity for yellow and purple kit is an unwelcome part of the photo sections. The Race Against Time is beautifully researched and written and an essential reference for anyone interested in the roots of British cycling success on track and road.
Precise and entertaining, like the gentlemen concerned.
road.cc test report
Make and model: The Race Against Time - Ed Pickering
Size tested: na
Pull off the dramatic black cover and Uncles Chris and Graeme are gurning in full frontal balanced black and white action portraits on back and front cover. Proper attention to classic detail.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
Age: 47 Height: Weight:
I usually ride: A 20 year old Condor Italia on the school run. My best bike is: Condor Moda Ti - summer bike
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,