“C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell” – Chuck Berry
Chris Boardman was commentating at last Sunday’s final Tour stage. He was speculating about what was going to change for cycling in Britain following the dominance of British cyclists in the Tour. It’s often the way, folks forget how far they’ve climbed; they’re just looking at the next rung up. Well if anyone should know about the climb it’s Boardman. Many, including Peter Keen (GB Performance Director) saw his 1992 Olympic gold medal in the individual pursuit (a discipline that Wiggins would go on to dominate) as the starting point for the GB performance at this year’s Tour.
10 years after Boardman and his superbike were claiming gold in Barcelona, I saw Wiggins ride at the Herne Hill Velodrome Good Friday meeting. At the time, David Millar’s no-show was the big story. He’d ridden the Tour, worn the yellow jersey and was to go onto win the world championships; before it imploded (temporarily) with his doping ban. Although folks were disappointed Millar wasn’t there, the announcer, the indomitable Eurosport commentator David Duffield was talking up a lanky lad called Bradley Wiggins riding for French team Francaise des Jeux. Wiggins was immense; the fluidity and speed had the crowds banging on the advertising hoardings, roaring him to an effortless win. But he was still just a pursuit rider – a finely honed specialist going round in circles. Certainly not a stage racer, never mind a contender for the General Classification.
Wiggins might have been in good shape but Herne Hill certainly wasn’t. Back then, it’s future was unsure (remember this was at the height of the housing boom, when a chunk of prime London real estate would have been bonus for someone) and sponsors were hard to find. This was still underground, enthusiasts-only territory. Track cycling’s changed now; I feel like someone who witnessed the Glastonbury Festival at the end of the 70’s – before it got big and commercial
Fast forward another 10 years and the Olympics games road race will be riding up Box Hill. I used to cycle up Box Hill in the mid 80’s on a lightweight vintage Claude Butler (on permanent loan from an uncle) to gaze at the bikes in Dauphin Sport, a tiny bike shop at the top. I’d regularly be the only cyclist on the road. And now they’ve repaved the zig zag to allow the elite riders to roll over it. Plus ca change.