Triumphs and Turbulence by Chris Boardman

Having listened to Chris Boardman speak at Spin London last month, we were eager to get our hands on a copy of his autobiography, Triumphs and Turbulence. Well the wait is over, with the book published today by Ebury Press and launched tonight by Boardman himself at the Lowry, Manchester. Lucky enough to get a preview copy, Ride Velo is pleased to announce that it lived up to expectation, having immersed us in so many different aspects of the cycling world, with fantastically funny anecdotes to boot. 

Triumphs and Turbulence

The impression you come away with, after reading his entire life story to 2012, is of a man who really personifies British Cycling (not just the organisation!). Born into a family of mad keen cyclists, and marrying into another one, Boardman describes life on the poverty line enriched by two wheels almost as though he was the honorary son of the legendary Beryl Burton

What's incredible about Boardman's autobiography is not just his rags to riches tale, or even his personal journey, but how he has made such an impact in so many areas of the the sport and has personally shaped the success of cycling in this country. Even more than that, he has become a role model for us ordinary citizens, literally getting us on our bikes in a way that Norman Tebbit never managed to do.

But the Olympic gold medal winner didn't take the standard career route. When he finally turned professional in 1994 aged just 25 he had already achieved so much; "most riders would be following a familiar pattern: work hard, gain results, turn pro, win races, earn money, get married, have kids. For a very select few, that career arc might culminate in an attempt on the world hour record. I had the marriage, the kids and the hour record already." 

Making his name on the track at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and following that up by taking the hour record from Eddy Merckx the following year, by 1994 Boardman was already wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France - the world's most respected and arguably the toughest road cycling race. It seemed as though the World Champion couldn't put a foot wrong. But gradually health problems caused by low testosterone caught up with him, and his stamina and recovery times put an end to his racing career. Retiring relatively young from competitive sport, he bowed out with a third successful hour record win in 2000. 

In 1992, I’d gone from being an unemployed carpenter to the most successful cyclist of his era, someone who could do no wrong. I began to believe everything that was written about me and it felt good. Those around me, the people I’d always relied on for counsel, were also affected by the press and spoke more quietly at exactly the moment I was less inclined to listen. Only failure brought me down far enough to start heeding their advice again.

Boardman was looking forward to a quiet life with his long-suffering wife and six children in the Wirral, but his obsessive nature refused to let him sit still. After a stint as a roving scuba diver reporter, he turned his new found writing skills (despite leaving school without an English qualification) to reviewing bikes for ProCycling magazine. This naturally developed into an invitation to join British Cycling from Dave Brailsford (future Team Sky director) where he became head of Research and Development. 

After four years spent obsessing over marginal gains, experimenting with everything from wet suits coated in pink chalk to nettle stings and spending hour after hour in wind tunnels (hence the Turbulence), the Beijing Olympics reaped a staggering 14 cycling medals for Team GB.

Boardman doesn't rest on his laurels, and replying to a random email from a triathlete led to him establishing his own Brand Boardman. Boardman Bikes kept him busy in the run up to Beijing; launching in 2007 during the Tour de France, it went on to become the fastest growing British bike brand in history, helped by Team GB cyclists winning national, world and Olympic titles on his bikes.

Not content with his personal Olympic success or as a British Cycling 'secret squirrel', Boardman became a commentator, starting with the Tour de France for ITV, and later for the Olympics itself in both Beijing and then London.

In true Boardman style, the London Olympics commentary ended up with an interview on the BBC's Newsnight programme where he gave an impassioned pro cycling speech riding the new wave of excitement for the sport. Hey presto, he becomes a spokesperson for the National Cycling Strategy, intent on getting us all moving on two wheels. Where will it all lead, we wonder, will Chris Boardman MBE end up our next Mayor for London or Manchester perhaps? With his obsession and drive the sky is the limit.

  Boardman's famous Lotus hour record bike - later disallowed by the UCI

Boardman's famous Lotus hour record bike - later disallowed by the UCI

But back to the book; it's far more than a narrative tale of fame and glory following a working class upbringing. Boardman gives us a really good insight into the grim realities facing riders in the peloton, and the camaraderie of the grupetto. His descriptions of the race stages he competed in are as exciting as watching the Tour de France itself. You can almost feel the sweat and pain of his hour record attempts, willing him to win. 

For me, it was the anecdotes that really brought this book to life all told in an easy, conversational style that had me chuckling page after page:  the happy hours he spent as a child walking around the cul-de-sac wearing a homemade scuba diving set; living like a celibate married couple with roomie Jens Voigt; getting stopped going through customs in Mick Jagger's van; and the eccentricities of co-presenter Gary Imlach, to mention just a few highlights. Close friend Imlach edited Truimphs and Turbulence and did a great job of creating a well written page-turner from the dyslexic Boardman's recollections. 

At Spin London, Boardman revealed that writing the book had been a cathartic two and a half year journey - he'd had to revisit times in his life when he'd been arrogant, "a git" and even "a shit!" He appeared particularly contrite about the way he treated his wife Sally, a girl whose phone number he'd obtained by trading a prized pair of Assos cycling shorts. But what actually comes across loud and clear is how devoted he is to his family and six children. Above all, Boardman is a family man.

Triumphs and Turbulence is available from Amazon for £13.60 published by Ebury Press.