As Team GB’s cyclists pedal out onto the Siberian pine boards of the Rio velodrome this weekend, expectations will be running high. At the London Olympics four years ago, the British track cycling team won an incredible seven of the ten gold medals up for grabs, as well as one silver and two bronzes. In Beijing, they did even better – seven golds, three silvers and two bronzes. Can they match these tallies? The early signs are good. Yesterday’s opening session saw the men kick things off with a gold in the team sprint, while the women set a new world record in team pursuit qualifying.
This kind of dominance by one country is pretty much unprecedented, and has left the more traditional cycling nations scratching their heads or crying foul. In London the French famously questioned whether British cyclists had “magic wheels”. In fact, the secret to British cycling’s success, and the reason the team are firm favourites for most events in Rio, is far more prosaic. It’s the result of hard work – both on and off the track – and science.
“They were enthusiastic amateurs, but when it came to competitions British cyclists didn’t have a hope in hell.”
The likes of Jason Kenny, Laura Trott and Sir Bradley Wiggins will no doubt be feeling nervous as they compete over the next few days. Likewise their coaches, support staff and the millions of British cycling fans back home. For one man watching over all of this however, these scenes will be less nerve-wracking than satisfying. If he wasn’t so modest, he might even allow himself to feel smug. Because the reason these cyclists are in the position they are, the reason they enjoy such huge financial and public support, has everything to do the life and career of Chris Boardman.