Chris Boardman in the PortholeGP 1997 A Picture in Time

Date: March 16th, 1997
Where: Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria
Features: Chris Boardman

Photo and words: Andy Jones

Back when this photo was taken it was special to see a continental pro with a big world class team, like Chris Boardman was with GAN, take part in a British time trial. I took the photo shortly after the start of the Porthole GP, which Boardman won from Stuart Dangerfield.

The Porthole GP was a time trial around Windermere in the English Lake district. It started out as a complete circumnavigation of the lake, just over 25 miles, but traffic lights on the old route meant later editions, like this one, were reduced to 21.3 miles. The route included some major roads but was mostly on minor ones, and there were plenty of hills. It was a time trial with a very European feel. No wonder really, because the race was backed by an ex-pat Italian called Gianni Berton.

Berton owned and ran a traditional Italian restaurant in Bowness, called the Porthole Eating House. He sponsored and helped develop the race, lending it some Italian style and flare. The heavy organisational lifting was done by Derek Tunstall and the local Kent Valley Cycling Club. The Porthole GP quickly became one of the big early-season clashes for northern time triallists and road racers.

Boardman was at the height of his career when I took this shot, a career that not only had ground-breaking achievements in it, like the hour record and leading the Tour de France, but featured constant innovation in the way he trained and raced, and in the equipment he used.

The bike he’s riding here was a new time trial bike he was trying, branded Eddy Merckx but built by Hotta. A bit lighter than the original Lotus carbon fibre monocoque frame he rode to Olympic gold in the individual pursuit in Barcelona in 1992, one of many innovations it featured was grip-shift for the rear mech, fitted to the aero handlebar extensions.

Gripshift is a SRAM twist shifter first seen on mountain bikes in the early 1990s. SRAM made bar-end shifters for aero extensions like Boardman is using back then, but they were quite flimsy and difficult to set up. Maybe Boardman preferred the more robust and much more positive mountain bike version.

I took the photo with my old Nikon F90 with a Nikon 35-135 zoom set around 65 to 70mm, pre-focused with flash, using Fuji Provia film 400 ISO because the light wasn’t so good that morning.

Boardman went on to win his third Tour de France prologue later that year in Rouen, and wear the yellow jersey for the third time. He says himself that prologue TTs were his gift, and that he honed it to maximum possible effect. Doing so not only brought him three victories, but three of the fastest average speeds ever in Tour de France prologue time trials. His first prologue victory, taken in Lille in 1994, is still the fastest-ever average speed achieved in a Tour de France individual time trial; 55.152 kilometres per hour for 7.2 kilometres.