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The devil in the details: A conversation with Chris Boardman

2011 Amgen Tour of California, stage 4: Chris Boardman
Boardman at the stage 4 start on Wednesday

SAN JOSE, Calif. (VN) — More than any other time trialist save perhaps Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman knows what it’s like to push the limits of human endurance while negotiating rules and regulations. Boardman set the world hour record in 1993, 1996 and 2000, in a largely different position each time.

Boardman and Obree battled each other in the ’90s, setting increasingly further distances in 60 minutes using creatively shaped bikes and position, including the arms-forward pose known as the superman. In 1996, Boardman covered 56.375km in an hour.

After the UCI banned this position, Boardman rode in the “Eddy Merckx” position (standard road position) to set the record of 49.441km in 2000. In doing so, he beat the record Eddy Merckx himself had set 28 years earlier by 10 meters.

These days, Boardman runs a bike company that bears his name and sponsors the UnitedHeatlhcare Pro Continental squad, which is racing at the Amgen Tour of California in the hopes of getting Rory Sutherland on the final podium. In January, Boardman spent time working with Sutherland in the A2 wind tunnel in North Carolina.

As Boardman well knows, records are made to be broken, and his 15-year-old 4km individual pursuit world record finally fell this February, when young Aussie Jack Bobridge went 4 minutes, 11.114 seconds in Sydney.

At the Tour de France, however, another Boardman record still stands. His 1994 prologue speed remains the highest ever, at 55.152kph over 7.2km on a striking Lotus frame.

On Wednesday, VeloNews caught up with Boardman at the stage start in Livermore.

Q. When you see the UnitedHealthcare guys getting ready to race here, do you miss racing yourself?

A. Oh, no! The novelty (of not racing) still hasn’t worn off. And on rainy mornings like this, I certainly don’t miss racing!

Q. What do you think about the current UCI rules on time-trial bikes?

A. I think it’s a challenge. I understand the issues that they face. The only thing we’d like to see — from our company and from British Cycling — is that the playing field is level for everybody. Then it’s OK. It’s ambiguity and gray area that causes problems for commissaires and riders.

But the rules are actually very good. And they’ve been very good for 10 years. The challenges come with enforcement. And there is a huge amount of variation in enforcement, what will do and what is unacceptable. And that’s the part that would help us all if it was cleaned up.

It’s not about badges and things. It’s about having education for commissaires.

It’s about having a new technical breed of commissaire that goes to all major races and are really well schooled. Perhaps they could all get together once a year, so that they’re all calibrated, so to speak.

Q. But just to play devil’s advocate for the UCI, what about the changing technology?

A. Technology is changing, but not that much. And most of it is covered in the current rules. For example, you can’t have a fairing. Fine. But then there’s huge gray area. A typical case is the Bont shoes that just got outlawed — the Crono shoes with a pointy nose and a bit of a tail on them. They deemed that this shoe was about aerodynamics. Yet you’re allowed to have a pointy helmet. That’s the bit that confusing people. We’re been allowed to have oversocks for 20 years.

It’s just a question of the uniformity of the application. That doesn’t come down to the rule, that’s the application.

Q.Who are your picks for the Solvang time trial?

A. I won’t know until I ride the course myself. (Boardman will be one of a handful of celebrity athletes and VIPs racing the course before the pro women take the course Friday.)

Q.You look pretty fit. Have you been riding much?

A. I’m OK. I’d classify myself as healthy. When I’m at home, I do four or five days a week split between the road and mountain bike.

Q.You probably don’t get on a TT bike too often these days.

A. No, no, no. I rarely climb on a TT bike except for testing purposes. Not to be too corporate about it, but that’s why we work with guys like UnitedHealthcare. I was just talking with (director) Eric Greene and going over details and tiny things, like doing a seatpost with a bit more setback. That feedback you don’t get without people who are going to use it for so many months and they’re going to have a valid opinion. You can’t do that on a test machine, you have to put it out there at this level. I can’t do it. I don’t ride a bike enough to find those things. It’s really advantageous to get feedback from the team.

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