British cyclist's gold rush blossoms with a Lotus

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The Independent Online
A BICYCLE hailed as the world's most aerodynamic cycling machine is likely to help Chris Boardman win Britain's first gold medal of the Olympic Games tonight.

Boardman, 23, from the Wirral, set an unofficial world record yesterday for the second day in succession as he reached the semi-finals of the 4,000 metres individual pursuit. His time of 4min 24.496sec was nearly three seconds inside his previous mark.

In the event two competitors race against each other, starting from opposite sides of a wooden track. The times are not official world records because the other cyclist is regarded as a pacesetter.

Boardman recently set a world record without the new bike, but the breakthrough by the Norwich-based firm Lotus Engineering has given him a crucial edge.

Bicycle manufacturers around the world have been waging a technological battle for 10 years in an attempt to reduce times. Following on from skin-tight suits, streamlined helmets, disc wheels and triathlon handlebars, the main innovation of Boardman's bike, the 'LotusSport', is a carbon fibre monocoque frame, which is more aerodynamic than conventional triangular frames.

Lotus, the first company to introduce monocoques to motor racing, developed the bike from a prototype drawn up 10 years ago by Mick Burrows, a designer from Norfolk. Lotus decided to develop the machine when the cycling authorities relaxed design rules.

Tests in a wind tunnel showed that the bike was most effective with Boardman in an almost prone position. Richard Hill, a Lotus aerodynamics expert, said: 'This bike is tuned to Boardman. We have cut the drag coefficient by about half that of a normal bike. But remember that the rider is two-thirds of the total drag.'

The bike weighs just over 8kg (17lb 10oz) and has a hollow carbon fibre frame. Most of the other parts are made of titanium and aluminium. The only steel components are the retaining bolts in the chain wheel.

Doug Dailey, British team manager, said: 'There is not another bike that can beat it, but cycling is not about to become dominated by the machines. Boardman is one of the physically strongest athletes I have ever met.'

The bike has aroused huge interest in Barcelona, but it will not go on sale until after the Games and a price has yet to be fixed.

'The Italians were almost beating us over the head with money. Everyone seems to want the bike,' Mr Hill said. 'After the Olympics we will produce a limited amount of race replicas and then, based on the design, make a leisure bike and some for various road uses.'

(Photograph and graphic omitted)