Cycling: Tour de France - Boardman in the endgame

Robin Nicholl finds the agony is almost over for a weary Briton

GREG LEMOND was a hard act to follow, and Chris Boardman arrived in the GAN team as the American was winding down his Tour de France career.

"Roger Legeay [the team manager] needed a new icon for his sponsors, and Boardman was it," Stephen Roche, another Tour winner, observed last week, as Boardman battled with the heat, mountains and his mind to complete the 3,686 kilometre (2,212 mile) race.

With Paris in sight Boardman, 31 next month and a father of four, said: "I may start another Tour, but I just cannot contemplate finishing it. I don't think I could go through this again."

Boardman came to his first professional team with the credentials of an Olympic champion in the 4,000m pursuit and world hour record-breaker in 1993. It was the exit LeMond needed and, after three Tour victories, he took it.

Boardman was not a ready-made team leader. He had achieved wonders on a bike but he was not built, mentally or physically, for winning Tours. He raised hopes with a record-breaking debut when he won the opening time- trial at Lille. More importantly, he had taken the yellow jersey as Tour leader, a sponsor's dream.

Thereafter the Tour became a struggle laced with short-lived triumphs and agonies. A year after the Lille euphoria came a bone-breaking fall on wet Breton roads which ended his Tour in minutes. In 1996 he lost by two seconds in the prologue, the opening time-trial for which he was now considered a favourite, but there was triumph - he went the full distance to Paris.

He followed that by winning the prologues in Rouen (1997) and Dublin (1998), but each time crashes sent him home for another review.

So the 1999 Tour dawned with Boardman determined to ensure one triumph, riding down the Champs-Elysees today. His weariness showed in yesterday's time-trial, normally Boardman's speciality. He was beaten by his Australian teammate Stuart O'Grady who was 37 seconds faster over the 57km (35-mile) course despite a wheel change because of a puncture.

"I was hurting badly," O'Grady said. "But I decided that with a day to go I might as well make it really hurt. Before the puncture I thought I might finish a minute ahead of our time-trial guru."

"When the results are not coming anymore, it becomes a personal challenge to go the distance," Boardman said. There were times when the dream faded into nightmare. "The first day in the Massif Central I suffered, and the next day was even worse. I thought I cannot go through that again.

"Then the first day in the Pyrenees was almost it. I was in real trouble with the heat, and I kept slipping backwards, then I had a puncture. This is it, I thought, but somehow I got back and, although the group was riding slowly, it was a struggle to get over two more climbs."

Boardman has never shirked a challenge and he is looking forward to the next, helping his children put up the tent when they go camping next week.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape