Cycling: Boardman smashes world record in style

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For a minute yesterday, Chris Boardman's striving appeared to be about to deflate like a punctured tyre. At the World Track Championships, he was trailing his old adversary Jens Lehman and the Manchester Velodrome recoiled in shock.

Were the pumped-up words of the previous day about world records empty? Boardman had assumed the "Superman" position on his specially modified bike, but the result was spectacularly mundane. After a quarter of the 4,000 metres pursuit, he was trailing the man he had beaten to win a gold medal in Barcelona four years previously by a second.

Then Boardman took off. His new position, arms stretched out over extended handlebars, gives the upper torso an appearance of flight and the 28-year- old Mersey-sider, after his initial flaps, was arcing round the track as if he was jet-propelled.

His German opponent, who started on the other side of the track, went from cat to mouse in a few huge lunges from Boardman's surprisingly spindly looking legs. At 2,000m, the hunter had become the hunted and Britain's most celebrated cyclist was two seconds in front.

At 2min 10.784sec, he was already inside the world record mark set by the Italian Andrea Collinelli en route to gold in Atlanta, but after such a topsy-turvy start, you wondered at the effects of the effort required to drag an advantage over Lehman.

You need not have bothered. Instead of buckling under the acceleration, Boardman just got faster. By 3,000m, he no longer had to worry about his opponent because he had caught and passed him. As he whirled round in a blur of red, white and blue, it became merely a matter of how much the record would be broken by.

On the previous day, Boardman had been asked whether times would be around the 4min 19.699sec that Collinelli had set in Atlanta. "I will be more surprised if the world record was not broken than if it was," he had replied. And as he approached the finish, it was clear to see why. The 4:19 barrier had been demolished - by almost six seconds, as Boardman clocked a staggering 4:13.353.

"The main thing is the new position," Boardman, who later reached today's semi- finals, said. "It's making a big difference. It's very aerodynamic. After that we have a very good bike and I'm profiting from the work I did in the Tour de France."

Four years ago, Boardman's gold medal had been put down to motor racing's Formula One technology that had designed his Lotus bike, but Lehman had known differently. "I was beaten by the man, not the machine," he said. As Boardman listed just about everything but himself yesterday, you would have expected the German to have repeated those sentiments.

Certainly Boardman looked way ahead of the opposition in the quarter- final. Competing against Edouard Gritsoun, he again began sluggishly but then ripped into the Russian's lead, at one point taking two seconds out of him in a matter of two laps. The result was a formality a long way before the finish and Gritsoun was cycling slowly, watching in admiration.

Boardman had indicated that a second record was unlikely, but he came mighty close. At 2,000m, he was just a fraction behind the blistering pace of the morning and by the finish he was just over a second adrift in 4:14.784. More, you suspect, is likely today.

Results, Digest, page 23