From Olympic golds and world records to an iconic bike brand and a key member of Team GB. Not bad for a chippy from the Wirral. Chris Boardman tells us what he learned from his amazing career
The 1992 Olympics was where I proved to myself that it was possible to compete against the world. It was the first GB cycling gold for 72 years.
Winning the first stage of the 1995 Tour de France was huge. I was an unemployed carpenter with no money, and suddenly I had a contract worth hundreds of thousands, which was unbelievable.
The hour record in 1996 was the best shape I was ever in. The weather conditions, the air pressure, everything was perfect for that attempt. The horrible thing about record attempts is that there’s no second place. When you start and there’s thousands of people all there to watch, you think, ‘This is horrible, I’m not sure I can do this.’ You have an obligation to see it through.
People confuse satisfaction with enjoyment and they’re very different things. It’s very satisfying to have done something tremendously hard, but there’s no fun in doing it. I think even a lot of athletes mix the two together in their own minds and say it was an incredible experience they really enjoyed. They didn’t; they enjoyed having achieved it. The doing of it is horrible and painful and scary.
Cycle culture in the mid to late ’90s was such a mess. I would turn up to a race thinking, “Right, I’m in good shape, this is gonna happen”, and it wouldn’t. You couldn’t predict what was going to happen. But it wasn’t something people went out and discussed over a beer; you could only go, “Well this is just not right.”
I wasn’t having fun anymore, my health was taking a dive and I was miserable all the time, so it was time to stop. I’m one of the few that had the luxury of walking away satisfied. I decided I was going to stop on this day, this time and never look back. It was a good chapter, but I was perfectly happy for it to be finished.
The development of the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ [with Team GB] started over coffee at a Starbucks with Dave Brailsford. It makes me smile because I know it wasn’t all polished and considered, it was just messy. I was the structure he needed and he was the chaos I needed. And it worked well.
There’ve been a few decisions in my life that have been a mental coin toss: the decision to start Boardman Bikes was one of them. I decided to reply to an email from someone that wanted to start a bike company. I’ve always loved making things, doesn’t matter what it is. It was the new race, to make the best product at these price points and win in as many categories as we can. At the next Olympics in Beijing, Nicole Cooke used one of our bikes to win the road race, which was cool.
I enjoy structure, I enjoy understanding how things work and the process and why it works. My home life is quite different. My wife Sally is a very strong person, and we squabble and fight. We have to tell people when we meet them that this is normal – it’s why we’re still married nearly 30 years later.
Don’t do anything that doesn’t satisfy you. You can put up with pain, sacrifice, annoyance and stress if what you’re doing fundamentally gives you a deep sense of satisfaction.
Chris Boardman’s autobiography Triumphs And Turbulence is out now, £20, Ebury Press