Tributes have poured in this week to an inspirational leader who changed the way people think and left the country on the brink of countless revolutions. It was the arch-Thatcherite Norman Tebbit who told us to get on our bikes but it was Sir Chris Hoy who made us do it. We're all cyclists now.
The second thing that Gary Newbon tells us about the retiring golden Hoy in Sporting Heroes (Sky Sports 1, Thursday) is: "He began his cycling career inspired by the film ET." Steven Spielberg's movie provided escapism in the early years of the Thatcher regime and introduced millions of British children to BMX bikes. Councils threw up a few concrete ramps, called them BMX courses and let the kids loose. Hoy admits: "It didn't mean you could peddle up in the air", but if anyone could cycle fast enough to deny the laws of physics, it would have been Hoy.
In fact the Scot and his fellow world-beaters at British Cycling are more like robots than extra-terrestrials. "It's this pursuit of excellence," he says nonchalantly. "You are the engine, you have to increase the capacity." Then he starts talking about "fast twitch muscle fibre types" and we're into Blade Runner territory (not that Blade Runner's territory, you can put your gun down). Hoy adds: "It's about using the adrenalin, being in a state of heightened awareness" – up to 15 times a day at the World Championships – and you can almost see the computer working behind the Terminator's eyes.
So it comes as something of a relief to hear him say, when comparing track and road cyclists: "I wasn't great at going up hills." Perhaps he is human after all.
There was a time, not long ago, when British Cycling was a frail beast that might have needed stabilisers. Hoy recalls his early days in 1996 when you brought your own bike to meetings and the only thing they gave you was a set of wheels. You even had to sign for a tracksuit top that was loaned out to you. It all sounds a bit like when you forgot to bring your gym kit to school. "We were always going to be a C-grade nation," he recalls.
At the age of 10, Hoy was set on his way with £1,000 of sponsorship from the local business magnate Tom Farmer, founder of KwikFit, which is appropriate since Hoy was to become very quick and extremely fit. Yet while he was at school Hoy came second in the coxless pairs at the 1993 British Rowing Championships. At 6ft 1in Hoy wasn't tall enough to keep rowing and, anyway, who wants to come second? But imagine if he and Sir Steve Redgrave ended up in the same boat; that must come close to being the definition of invincible.
The rest of the world has been trying to catch up with Hoy since Lottery funding revolutionised the sport and the Manchester Velodrome was built. Even as Britain's greatest Olympian hangs up his garish lycra bodysuit, his enthusiasm is undiminished, as when he describes the 2012 keirin final which took him past Redgrave in the gold-medal stakes.
He recalls how the perfectionists at British Cycling never allowed team orders; if you were racing against team-mates you had to try to beat them. "You had to treat them like an Australian, a German, a Frenchman," says Hoy. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, and the joke is on the rest of the world.Reuse content