Cycling: Boardman's sacrifices for success

Robin Nicholl talks to Britain's best cyclist who starts his new season on Saturday in France
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Not for the first time Chris Boardman is haunted by the sacrifices of main-line bike racing as he prepares to take on two major tours in 1997. In the early months of his professional career he admitted: "I was on the verge of saying I can't handle this. Then I made a breakthrough.''

He went on to lead the Tour de France, and win world and Olympic honours, but four years on from those first doubts, Boardman is weighing golden glory on the podium against golden moments with his children: Edward, Harriet, George, and Oscar.

"Race demands are becoming more and more, and, having a family, it is becoming a price I am less and less willing to pay. It is something that will stop me racing if I don't address the problem now.

"My eldest, Edward, is seven. He wants to do things and I want to do them with him. I have to make time for that, so a few jobs have been cut out this winter. It was not getting out of hand but it was a very heavy volume. Too much for me.

"I didn't want to be seen as a prima donna but I cut back on engagements, and had a quiet winter. Now I am hoping for a similar summer.''

Boardman, 29 in August, is giving his career another four or five years. "I like the idea that I can see the end of it and I can motivate myself for the time that is left. I want to make it count while I am here, rather than going for longevity records.

"I have tremendous admiration for Miguel Indurain. He is a loss to cycling... I have never heard a bad word against him... He got on quietly with his job... He handled defeat like a man... Still gave everything although he was beaten. Then he made the right decision to have a real life.''

Indurain, five times winner of the Tour de France, retired from racing earlier this month.

Boardman doubts that he himself would have made the grade if he had taken the well-pedalled route to a big-time career. "Coming from the bottom and working my way up via a European club, I am not hard enough for that. I was able to start in the middle. I could live at home and I already had a few privileges. That carried me through the first few months which were extremely difficult.''

A track gold in the Barcelona Olympics followed by the world hour record on the Bordeaux track lifted Boardman a few rungs higher on the ladder of respect than most rookies when he became professional late in 1993. A year later he was a double world champion and the first Briton to lead the Tour de France -for three days after a winning debut on the first day in Lille.

Disaster followed glory. His next Tour ended in minutes, with a crash that finished his 1995 season, and Boardman's battle to re-establish himself took its toll.

"By the end of last year I had worked 16 months solid after crashing," Boardman said. "I started the 1995 Tour with a viral infection which left me with only one goal, to complete the distance to Paris.''

His Tour was ruined, but not his year. He regained the world 4,000 metres pursuit title with a world record time and a week later on the same Manchester track, recaptured his 1993 world record by covering 56.375 kilometres in an hour. There was also a silver medal in the World Time Trial Championship in Lugano and a bronze medal in the Olympics time trial.

Boardman will not defend his track title in Perth, Western Australia, in August. "It's not going to prove anything. I am expected to win it," he said.

Instead Boardman wants to take back the world time trial title he won in 1994. Last year's silver medal in Lugano he rated as "a jaded performance''.

"I don't want that to happen again," he said. Switzerland's Alex Zulle took the title 11 days after winning the Tour of Spain. It became obvious that if I wanted form for a World Championship in October I would have to ride the Spanish tour.

``I am intending to ride it as an objective for the season, but I could also use it as a training race. That is something that cannot be done with the Tour de France.''

Boardman's season opens in France with a one-day race, the Tour du Haut Var, on Saturday and a month later he is due to contest the Porthole Grand Prix time trial in the Lake District.

"I have 110 days of racing, and it is going to be heavy, but the first time I want to show is in the Tour de France," Boardman said.

He plans to curb his racing instincts so that he can build up gently towards the Tour, always his No 1 objective. "It's going to be difficult to ride races, and do nothing. I must not get sucked in because I am clear now that is the way it has to be if I want to perform in a major Tour.''