My second trip of the week to Wimbledon BookFest was to hear Olympic cycling gold medallist Chris Boardman in conversation with John Inverdale – and to chat with the man himself for a while before he went on stage.
Despite being an avid sports fan, cycling isn’t one I’d class as a favourite. However, I take an interest in it every four years during the Olympics, and Barcelona 1992 was the first Olympics I can recall in any great detail. I remember vividly watching Chris Boardman triumph in the Individual Pursuit to secure gold for Team GB. This was of course back in the day when Team GB golds were scant and cycling golds were the rarest of commodities. It was this gold medal that I asked Chris about – secretly I was hoping he’d have it with him and I’d get to touch and wear it! Sadly for me, this was not the case:
“It’s in Liverpool Museum at the moment. I don’t recall the last time I actually saw it – it’s been years! But it will be going in my performance centre when it opens in March, which is situated on the edge of the Cotswolds in Evesham.”
Chris recommended that men looking to get into cycling as a means to keep fit should first simply use it as a mode of transport before getting too serious.
“Then you don’t have to think about cycling as exercise – it’s just a great way of getting around,” he explained. “I think that’s the key. If we can make it an attractive way of just moving, that makes a massive difference to men of all ages. The Dutch and the Danish don’t think of cycling as exercise, just as a means to move around and they have less than half the obesity rate that we do.”
If you do progress to using cycling as a serious fitness tool, Chris told me it’s important to get ‘a decent pair of shorts’ as the number one essential! “The beauty of a bike is you can get one brand new these days for £80 and if you go into Halfords, get someone to set you up to start with so you can get a fitted bike. Choose a bike attuned to what you like and want to do. If you’re going to ride to work don’t buy a mountain bike, buy a hybrid.”
Very nobly, Chris didn’t answer that question by plugging his own bike range. As well as being involved in Boardman Bikes, he also commentates on cycling for both the BBC and ITV, and was recently appointed as the Commissioner for Walking and Cycling in Greater Manchester. Being born and raised in Manchester, I was keen to hear how the role was going:
“It’s daunting, but it’s going OK at the moment. There’s masses of enthusiasm – much more than I expected. A lot of people have got to want to change how we move about so it’s a big responsibility, but an opportunity to genuinely change habits in a large chunk of the country. We could set an example over 10 towns and cities for the whole country to follow.”
Chris discussed the role further when he took to the stage. He informed the crowd – undoubtedly largely made up of cycling enthusiasts – that cycling can provide a ‘silver bullet’ to many of the nation’s problems. If more people take it up, it helps to lower pollution, improves health and therefore reduces the pressure on the NHS, and should also help reduce congestion on our roads.
He also talked about his book ‘Triumphs to Turbulence’ which charts his career as a professional cyclist, including the Olympics and Tour De France, his pivotal role in the ‘Secret Squirrel’ club, which significantly improved the performance of Team GB’s cycling squads, and his fears and hopes for the sport following ongoing doping scandals.
Despite only a slight interest in cycling I was riveted by Chris’s passionate opinions, insights, and some very witty anecdotes from his stellar career. He was rightly lauded by Inverdale and members of the audience as the man who changed the face of cycling in this country. His gold was the first in Olympic cycling for Britain for 72 years and inspired the likes of Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins.
‘Triumphs and Turbulence’ is now on my reading list. I suggest you add it yours.
Wimbledon BookFest is currently being held on Wimbledon Common until Sunday evening.