Manchester - September 1996
Wow - what an evening!
Chris Boardman is the new world hour record holder. There appears to be a little confusion about the distance - at the track last night, it was clearly displayed and announced as 56.6259 km, but I have also noticed that this morning's Guardian quotes a figure of 56.375 km. Maybe Willi Tarran can clarify this, but in any event, it beats Tony Rominger's old world record figure of 55.291 km by over 1 km - no mean feat.
"English spectators are quiet and undemonstrative"
We arrived at the track about 6 pm, and settled down to wait for Boardman's attempt. Watched a bit of the World Masters sprint series (Geoff Cooke was riding, in his early 50's - do I remember him racing tandem at Leicester some 20 odd years ago?).
At 6.25 pm, the track was cleared and the sandbags went out. Two sleek blue Eddy Merckx carbon-fibre bikes were wheeled to the start area, Eddy Merckx himself was wandering around the track centre, and Hugh Porter was giving the crowd a great build-up over the PA system.
At 6.30, Chris Boardman rode up the ramp on his roadbike, and did a couple of very gentle warm-up circuits, before stopping and getting on to his track machine. Now, it was kind of hard to tell with the radio headset he was wearing, but it looked to me remarkably like Willi Tarran holding up Boardman's bike. If I'd been allowed to hold up Chris's bike, I'd never wash my hands again!
Willi Tarran holds Chris Boardman up at the start
Then he was off. A roar of applause came from the capacity, sell-out crowd of 3,300. Chris spent the first lap and a quarter out of the saddle, getting on top of his gear before adopting the "Obree/Superman" position that he was to hold for the next 60 minutes.
It is worth pointing out that this was the first time anyone had taken this extreme position over this distance. If you want to know how it feels, stand with your feet on the ground, stretch over your kitchen table, and grab hold of the legs the other side. Then hold that position for 60 minutes. We know that this new position is fast; the question in many minds was, could Boardman hold it for 60 minutes?
The first kilometre was covered in 1:2.829, and Chris then settled into a pretty steady rythm of covering a kilometer in between 1'3" and 1'4". I know people riding 4,000 metre pursuits who'd be proud of that!
Our first real check was at the 5 km point. The big electronic scoreboard showed Rominger's time of 5:30.25, and we all held our breath until Boardman passed it in a faster time. The only anxious moments came in the second half. Once, Chris eased himself out of the saddle a couple of times on the north banking, before settling back down and getting on with the job in hand. He soon had his rythm back.
At the 50 km mark, Rominger's time was 54:18.73 - Boardman hit his 50 km mark in 53:21.752, almost a minute faster. Right in front of me, trainer Peter Keen held up a board saying "875", which I assume was telling Chris how many metres he would beat the record by.
Chris responded by easing himself out of the saddle again, causing flashes of concern to cross many faces in the crowd. We needn't have worried. Chris was just readying himself: In the words of the old song, he'd saved the best till last.
Having consistently run at a pace of 1'3" to 1'4" per kilometre, Chris now wound it up with the end in sight, and produced two sizzling 1'2" kilometres, followed by a 1'3".
As Chris approached the end of the 221st lap, a huge roar broke out. Somebody had marked the track just into the first banking at the point where, on his 222nd lap, Britain's top pursuiter would take Tony Rominger's record of 55.291 km - and he had a full minute in hand!
Peter Keen was now holding up cards showing how many mintues, then seconds there were to go. Boardman was lapping at about 15-16 seconds per lap, and he gave it all he had in the last half dozen laps.
Then it was over. Boardman wound down for a couple of laps, Peter Keen held out his arms in an expression of admiration (and got given Chris's helmet for his troubles!), and the Gan rider waved to his admiring home crowd.
The organisation was superb. They even got four of the biggest doormen in to hold back the throng in the track centre and give Chris room to breathe when he stopped.
As Chris rolled up to stop, did I notice Willi Tarran the first to shake hands with the unflappable Peter Keen?
Boardman had barely stopped when former hour-record holder Eddy Merckx was there to congratulate him. They both seemed a little embarrassed, unsure. Chris held out his hand. The moment passed, and Eddy embraced Chris in a great bear-hug, before holding his arm aloft and applauding him. The respect of one champion for another.
Eddy Merckx, himself a former hour record holder, congratulates Chris Boardman
The media dived in then, cameras and microphones everywhere. But Chris was unflappable - amazing, considering what he had just done. He was calm, collected, standing up, and even gave an interview to Hugh Porter for the crowd's benefit, thanking us for our support.
"I have never heard anything so loud" he said. "Every time the crowd roared me on, I would go a little faster". And what about those couple of stretches, asked Hugh? "The saddle hurt a bit, I won't be able to sit for a few days, and my arms felt it" said Chris. Was he aware how fast he had been going? "No, I was just giving it everything I had. I just wanted it to end."
Suddenly, Sally Boardman was ushered to the front of our stand, opposite from Chris. He signalled someone to help him climb the track (still in his cycling shoes!), and was helped over to his wife and family. Ever the family man, he was soon giving interviews to the world's press, as he held one of his kids in his arms and held another to his hip.
Despite the pain that he probably feels in that region at the moment, Chris definitely gets one of my coveted "Big Balls" awards. Even if they are sore :) World pursuit champion, world 4,000 metres record holder. And, for the second time, World hour record holder.
My thanks to Mike Gladu for permission to use his excellent pictures.
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