His battle with Graeme Obree during the 1990s for the hour record defined a generation of British cycling and pushed the limits of bicycle design.
It is little surprise, then, that Chris Boardman now heads his own bicycle brand and Boardman Bikes unveiled their 2014 Elite Series range on the 31st floor of London’s Centre Point tower earlier this month.
However, the British legend hopes innovation and technology will be cast aside when Swiss star Fabian Cancellara attempts to break the hour record next year.
Boardman and Obree’s records, achieved with tri-bar extensions and a radical ‘superman’ position, were later reclassified by the UCI as ‘best human efforts’, as cycling’s governing body insisted any future attempts be made on a standard bike like that used by long-standing record-holder Eddie Merckx.
Boardman responded by breaking the Belgian’s 28-year mark, on a bike fitting strict criteria, by just ten metres – setting a new record of 49.441km shortly before his retirement in 2000.
Only one man – Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka – has broken the record since, riding 49.7km in 2005, and it is this mark that Classics king Cancellara will target next year, according to reports in La Gazzetta Dello Sport.
Boardman, however, hopes the UCI will seize the opportunity to regain a firm grip on the rules of the hour record, in order to set a mark to last the ages – as he and manager Roger Legeay hoped would happen after his 2000 attempt.
Boardman told RoadCyclingUK: “It was a project that was first conceived in 1993 while researching an attempt on the ‘standard’ hour in Bordeaux.
“A ‘technology-free’ attempt was subsequently forgotten about and then revived in 2000 by my then-boss, Roger Legeay.
“His rational was that, as I’d been one of the two riders (the other being Graeme Obree) held rightly responsible for pushing the technological limits of the time, establishing a mark that had nothing to do with technology and was just about the athlete seemed poetic, sort of tidying up before I left.
“Also, after the mess of the Festina affair in 1998 we requested the UCI take and store blood and urine samples for future testing specifically to create a mark that cycling fans could believe at face value. Sadly the UCI of the time didn’t see the value in this, something I’m sure they now regret!
“I hope this element can be added in now as combined, the goal of establishing a record that allowed comparison between athletes 30 years past or 30 years in the future could be truly realised – ‘The Athletes Hour’.”
Although initially a private exercise, Legeay kept the UCI informed of Boardman’s attempt in 2000 to ensure they would properly recognise it.
However, to Boardman’s frustration, the governing body of the time later took control.
He explained: “What most people won’t know is that when we started on the project, it was an entirely private exercise but Roger was keen that the UCI recognise it so kept them in touch. Fine by me.
“Sadly, near the end they decided to ‘take charge’ of the event and adopt it as their own invention, which would also have been fine by me had they not decided to start messing with the super-simplistic rules we had set out for ourselves, or anyone else that would follow.”
Such rules included limits on the bike – which had to be metal and of a traditional tubed design – with all the tubes strictly round, and no smaller than 25mm, except for stays and forks.
Aero sections were to be banned, while the wheels used all had to be spoked with a minimum 18 on the front and 24 on the back – all measuring no more than 2mm in diameter.
The weight of the bike was also not to exceed 6.8kg. “It seemed if you have to pick a mark that was as good as any for this exercise,” said Boardman
Position and clothing for the attempt were to be controlled using the UCI’s guidance for the points race, although Boardman and Legay’s proposal for no helmets – “the human head isn’t going to change shape in the next few million years” – was over-ruled.
Boardman added: “By and large though, the overriding philosophy behind this event was that those attempting it respect the whole point of it.
“It was to be a mark set without the aid of progressive technology, one that is completely about the rider and in such a way as to allow direct comparison between athletes regardless of the date or even era the attempt is made.
“In the years immediately after my retirement, when I saw the record attempted with no stringent doping controls that kept samples, and aero seatposts and forks used, I was really disappointed that those who had been left in charge of this event had immediately lost sight of why it was established in the first place.
“It would be great if the new UCI establishment got a firm grip on the rules for this potential Monument and defended them rigorously, and as Cancellara’s attempt is set to take place next spring, they haven’t got long to get on top of it.
“If they don’t then it will be a tragic waste of an opportunity to create something quite beautiful, a single athletic mark in a time of massive uncertainty, that the fans can believe in at face value, something everyone could desperately use right now.”
Nevertheless, Boardman is still pleased the record is set to end up back in the spotlight next year.
He said: “I was delighted to hear that Fabian Cancellara was to attempt the athletes hour record as if they are not attempted, preferably by the very best in the sport, records just gather dust and die.
“As for whether he can do it? I have no doubt a rider of his calibre can take the record and, in doing so, make it the Monument it should be – I’m rooting for him!”
For more information on Boardman Bikes, or to see their 2014 range, visit www.boardmanbikes.com