Cycling: Boardman is beaten off: Briton ends his season on a low note

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CHRIS BOARDMAN called it a slap in the face. After three victories at the dawn of his professional career, losing by more than two and a half minutes in the Grand Prix des Nations time-trial was a rapid end to the 1993 season for the Olympic champion and world record-breaker, writes Robin Nicholl.

'I was semi expecting it, but everyone was saying 'no, no, you will win',' Boardman said after finishing fourth behind the Frenchman Armand de las Cuevas on an undulating circuit around Lake Madine, near Metz.

He had known his form was declining, even after a debut victory in the Grand Prix Eddy Merckx five weeks ago. 'It was nowhere near as good as it can be, which is the only consolation I have.'

De las Cuevas covered the 62 kilometres in 1hr 20min 54sec, beating the Australian Stephen Hodge by 1min 02sec in the last event in the World Cup series, which was won by the Italian Maurizio Fondriest.

Britain's other world-beater, Graeme Obree, whose racing position gives him the appearance of having been impaled on his handlebars, was in agony at Lake Madine.

He struggled to finish 15th, racing the final 10km with cramp, and crossed the line pumping his right leg with his hand.

The Scot is criticised for the big gearing he uses, but it has brought him world records, the world pursuit title and celebrity, as well as the cramp. 'It was a shocking ride. Now the Florence-Pistoia time-trial is my last chance,' he said.

GRAND PRIX DES NATIONS (Time-trial, 62.5km): 1 A de las Cuevas (Fr, Castorama) 1hr 20min 54sec; 2 S Hodge (Aus, Once) +1min 02sec; 3 E Seigneur (Fr, Gan) +1:27; 4 C Boardman (GB, Gan) +2:39; 5 J Nijdam (Neth, WordPerfect) +2:51; 6 P Lance (Fr, Gan) +2:57. Selected: 7 M Fondriest (It, Lampre) +3:33; 15 G Obree (GB, Bic) +5:59. Final World Cup standings: 1 Fondriest 287pts; 2 J Museeuw (Bel, GB-MG) 172; 3 M Sciandri (It, Motorola) 114; 4= A Volpi (It, Mecair), C Chiappucci (It, Carrera) 100.