The final icing on the cake for British cyclists at London 2012 came yesterday as Sir Chris Hoy won an historic sixth Gold Medal in the men’s Keirin event making Sir Chris the most successful British Olympian of all time.
British success has not gone unnoticed in France, arguably the home of cycling. It prompted the French National Technical Director of Cycling, Isabelle Gautheron to ponder, “We are asking ourselves many questions. How have (the British) gained so many tenths of a second in the space of a few months? Whilst in pursuit events, they’ve even gained seconds” reports French sports journal L’Equipe
French dismay at the performance of their own cyclists and puzzlement at their rivals, the Brits, pedalling off into the far distance with a king’s ransom of glittering prizes seems to have caused Ms. Gautheron to reach for a mystical explanation, saying, “Did they find a new method of driving on certain energy pathways? I’m not talking about anything forbidden for the anti-doping regime is pretty much water-tight. But, honestly, you have to take a very hard look at the equipment used (by the Brits).”
“They hide their wheels...”
Continues Gautheron, “They hide their wheels a lot. Those competition bikes are hidden in bags upon arrival. Unlike the (bike) frames, the wheels don’t need to be approved by the UCI
(the International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body). Can they really be Mavic (a manufacturer) wheels? ”
In fact, any cycle wheels used in competition need to be ones marketed by the UCI, Mavic
being one of the principal manufacturers. In an atmosphere where cycling support teams are forever stealing glances to see what the opposition might be up to, Jacques Corteggiani, a spokesman (no pun intended) for manufacturer of Team GB’s magic wheels, Mavic, had a more down-to-Earth explanation, “The teams all have the same hardware. Officially, Mavic is the supplier of four major teams, Great Britain, Germany, Australia and France.”
In the French camp, however, they are remembering how Team GB also dominated cycling events at the Beijing Olympics of 2008 when the Brits won 7 out of a possible 10 titles (also with Mavic wheels). Somewhat fatalistically, the French National Technical Director of Cycling said, “We know they are working with McLaren but this is not the time for analysis. At the moment, everything is focussed on these Olympic Games but we will be asking questions for the next Olympics.” So just how far could this industrial espionage go? “We will not be stealing their wheels,” mused Gautheron, “Fair play is everything.”
Amongst commentators, various theories abound for the sustained British success in cycling. None, it would seem, canvas the possibility that the British cyclists might simply be the best in the world. One France-based cycling professional, Nicolas Rousseau suggested that the explanation might be that the wheel bearings, rather than the wheels, were giving the British the edge.
There is good reason why Gautheron should not be so despondent. Yes, Bradley Wiggins (a Brit) won the Blue Riband of world cycling, the Tour de France this year, but it took the British a longer time than the 100 Years’ War to come up with a Tour de France victor, 109 years to be precise, the first Tour de France having taken place in 1903.
For the record: Team GB have won 8 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals at the London 2012 Olympics. The British cyclists have won more cycling gold than the rest of the world put together. The French Olympic cyclists have had to make do with 3 silver.