Manchester, 29th August 1996.
Tonight, I was privileged to watch what must surely be one of the best World Pursuit finals for many years. The players, Italy's Andrea Colinelli and Britain's Chris Boardman, are both top-class pursuit riders. Boardman is a former Olympic pursuit winner and former world pursuit champion, whilst Colinelli is the reigning Olympic champion. Colinelli set a new world record in Atlanta just a few short weeks ago, and Boardman beat it in the qualifying round of this championship here in Manchester, England.
The venue was the Manchester velodrome, with Boardman appearing in front of an enthusiastic, full-capacity home crowd. Every seat in the stadium was sold. The atmoshpere was nothing short of electric. Never, in twenty years of watching track meets, have I experienced anything like it.
Colinelli appeared on the track, to much applause. Then Boardman came out, and the stadium went wild. The two got onto their bikes, and settled down to wait for the off.
From the start, Boardman stayed out of the saddle longer than Colinelli, who was the quicker of the two to get on top of his gear. The whole stadium was roaring encouragement at Boardman, but he soon began to slip back. He had started fairly slowly in the other rounds, building to a faster second half, but the tension still rose. Was our Local Hero about to receive a thrashing?
Each lap, Colinelli's lead went up a little. He was a second up, then 1.55 seconds, then 1.6 seconds. Hearts were in mouths. Colinelli was massively impressive, stretched out in his "superman" position (which ought really to be called the Obree position, but ...).
Then something magical happened. Gradually, Boardman began to haul the Italian in. His deficit fell to 1.4 seconds, to an almighty roar from the crowd. The next lap, Boardman was only 1.2 seconds down, then 0.9 and then 0.5. A lap later, he was only .071 seconds behing the Italian, and the whole stadium rose to its feet. Another lap (only four laps to go!) and Boardman was 0.557 seconds ahead of Colinelli, and the whole stadium became a wall of sound, the roar of encouragement and joy becoming louder as the lead increased to 1.342 seconds, then to 4.452 seconds with just one lap to go.
Suddenly it was all over. Colinelli faded visibly, paying for his fast start, and Boardman very nearly caught him on the line.
The gun went, and Chris Boardman was once again World Champion in pursuit racing. The crowd erupted into a roar of pleasure, and appreciation of the superb racing by both riders.
Boardman rode round, a big smile on his face, waving to the crowd. Colinelli was more subdued, but still received a standing ovation; a master of his sport, and a pleasure to watch. Boardman could have wished for no finer opponent, and patted the Italian on the back as he passed him. The two returned to their base straights, and I was delighted to see the back straight rise and applaud Colinelli as he dismounted.
And the time? Boardman crossed the line in 4'11".114, slashing another two whole seconds off the world record he had set the day before - and a whole eight seconds faster than Colinelli's impressive world record time set in Atlanta. But somehow, the time seemed less important than having been privileged to watch what must surely go down in history as one of the great pursuit matches of all time. Along with a certain Olympic title race in Barcelona, just four years ago......
Tonight, I am going to issue two of my coveted "Big Balls" awards. Boardman won on the day, but it takes two to make a race like that. To Chris Boardman and to Andrea Colinelli, a "Big Balls" award each, much kudos, and my thanks for enabling me to see a truly great race. I will remember this evening for many years to come.
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