Final hour of fame in sight for Boardman

Chris Boardman is once again the man of the hour. Seventeen years of sacrifice, pain, and glory will click into history at a quarter to five this afternoon as he says a gruelling goodbye to cycle racing.

Chris Boardman is once again the man of the hour. Seventeen years of sacrifice, pain, and glory will click into history at a quarter to five this afternoon as he says a gruelling goodbye to cycle racing.

He recalled "my best ever performance and the form of my life" when, four years ago on the wooden boards of Manchester velodrome, he set the world hour record at 56.375 kilometres (34.952 miles).

That day he rode a hi-tech machine which has since been outlawed as the Union Cycliste Internationale tightens up on design regulations. It has put Boardman's record in a class of its own by calling it "the best hour performance", and ruled that future attempts should be on conventional machines.

So today Boardman closes his career by going back to basics. He is establishing a world hour record on a standard machine which weighs in at the minimum limit, 6.8 kilograms. "It's a nice way to say goodbye, and I wanted to do it in Manchester," said the father of four whose other achievements include Olympic gold and bronze, earning the leader's yellow jersey in the Tour de France, and winning world titles on road and track.

His last two years have been tough, particularly as he has a bone-wasting disease which cannot be treated until he retires, because the treatment he receives would show positive in drug tests.

"My goal is to make the record difficult for the next person, but I am starting with a schedule of 49.5km, which I will use as a point of reference. I expect to do more than 49km but not go beyond 50."

Although the 28-year-old record of the Belgian legend Eddy Merckx is being used as a yardstick by many for Boardman's attempt, he cites an even older world hour record as closer to his ideals.

Merckx covered 49.431km in Mexico with the advantage of racing at altitude. In 1967, another Belgian, Ferdy Bracke, set the record at 48.093km at sea level on Rome's Olympic track.

"If I only ride 40km it is still a world record, but honour says that I cannot do that," Boardman said. "If we prove anything today it may be just how good Merckx was."

The UCI has reinstated Merkcx's figure as the world record because he was the last to use a conventional bike. Boardman agrees with its "back to basics" philosophy, and is adding some of his own. He is racing at sea level, and wants the UCI to make that a regulation, with a 600 metres altitude limit. He is also has some suggestions about drugs.

"I am trying to get strong doping regulations where urine and blood testing is done and kept cryogenically frozen so that it can be reviewed and retested in the future as the testing science advances. This record, above all others, should be beyond suspicion. You see it and you believe what you see."

Boardman has always taken a scientific approach, and having to wear a regulation helmet today he rates as equivalent to the loss of 1km over an hour.

On the track yesterday, Britain's Olympic bronze medal foursome - Paul Manning, Bryan Steel, Chris Newton, and Bradley Wiggins - reached the final of the world 4,000 metres team pursuit with a semi-final win over France. They caught their opponents with two laps to race in the 16-lap event in which teams start in opposing straights. They were due to take on the Olympic and defending world champions Germany in last night's final, assured of at least silver.

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