Boardman backs Wiggins for Tour de France glory
Former Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman is tipping Bradley Wiggins as Britain's first evet Tour de France winner.
Boardman, whose gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 paved the way for the boom in British cycling, feels Wiggins has a great chance of winning the world's most prestigious road race.
He said: "It's possible, but it'll be tough this year. Bradley was fourth last year, and if you are top four Tour de France after three weeks, then you've got to be in the hunt, so you can't say never.
"Bradley's got the team around him to support him. The whole team's been built for that this year, so we'll see what happens. He's really focused on the Tour de France and I know he's in good shape. But whatever happens it'll be good to watch."
Boardman, 41, is happy to see the new generation eclipse his achievements, with the likes of Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy and Mark Cavendish all becoming household names. But he refused to take credit for inspiring his cycling successors.
He said: "I don't know. That's a question for other people. Perhaps at a time when we were at a low and hadn't won gold medals for 70-odd years, it gave us something of a spark and reminded people we are capable. Perhaps it helped with a bit of belief but after that it was everybody's own work."
Apart from his Olympic win Boardman also claimed stage wins in the Tour de France and set a new one hour record in 1996. All three rank equally with him.
He said: "The Olympic gold medal proved to me I was capable of competing at that level. Winning my first Tour de France prologue was the biggest thing business-wise, though I didn't appreciate that for a couple of years, and physically the world hour record in 1996 was the best I ever was at a given moment. That was fantastic."
The sport has been tarnished in recent years with various drugs scandals involving some of the highest-profile riders in the world. Boardman thinks the battle against the cheats is being won, but he advocates tougher sanctions for those who are caught.
He said: "If anything I'd have gone for harsher penalties. Make the risk greater than the reward and make the penalties really draconian, like you're out full stop. I'd have supported something like that.
"But I think they are doing everything in their power to be honest. Biological passport blood tests every month. A whereabouts system, where you have to say where you are every night. It's just cannot get any stricter than it is.
"Last year went pretty well. If you look at it in terms of percentage, the drop-off's been massive. You've had a culture change within the teams. The teams want to police themselves because whole teams lose sponsors now, it's not just one individual they sideline and carry on. Whole teams go under.
"That's the way it should be because it makes everybody mutually accountable. It's a good time be involved in cycling."
Boardman, who had a successful road racing career as well as on the track, faced plenty of riders who benefited from doping. Although it was well-known in the sport who was cheating, there was little the clean riders at time could do about it other than concentrate on their own form.
Boardman said: "The way I coped with it was, and it sounds a bit cheesy, was just focus on what I could do and luckily there was one thing, the prologue time trial - this short time trial event - that I could do.
"I was very fortunate that it was something of value. Could it have been more than that? I don't know. I don't spend a great deal of time speculating because you just get bitter and twisted."
Boardman was in Canary Wharf on Tuesday to promote the Halfords Tour Series, which starts in Canary Wharf on May 25. He was enthusiatic about the arrival of road racing in the area.
He said: "It's an event we had years and years ago and it's just started again. It's exactly right for Britain. We're not a predominantly cycling nation, and so they get spectacle, an hour long criterium where the winner is the first across the line, so people really understand it. It's perfect. Even if you haven't anything to do with cycling, you come along and you will still have a good time."
With the 2012 Olympics looming Boardman is doing his bit to maintain Britain's success by heading the research and development team. His plans are secret, but admitted the reliance on special suits and kit is over.
He said: "The focus is going to be less technical from this point forward. Physiology, training and conditioning - there's a lot more that can be done there. It's going well. I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you."
Britain will be hard pressed to match the achievements of Hoy and the rest in Beijing when the Olympics arrive in London, but Boardman was confident there will still be plenty of cycling success.
He said: "It's possible to match it, but everything came together to make a spectacle like that happen. It was unprecedented. It was the most successful Olympic team ever, so it's a tall order but at the moment I don't see why not. The projections are good."
The first round of the Halfords Tour Series takes place in Canary Wharf on Tuesday, May 25. The event, which is free to watch, starts at 7pm.