News for March 31, 1997

Ronde van Midden Brabant (162 km)

 1. Wilco Zuyderwijk
 2. Pronk 			0.05

Indoor Track Racing in London

Men's Sprint 

 1. Frederic Magne (Fr) wins 2-0
 2. Rene Vink (Ned)
 3. Alwin McMath (Scot)

Metaphysical McGee's finest hour

This headline appeared in the Australian, on March 31 in a story written by NICOLE JEFFERY

In an hour, we watched Brad McGee age 50 years.

With his legs pumping in cadence, his body locked into its streamlined position, and his hi-tech bike circling the track with metronomic consistency, the effort was visible only in his face.

The youthful Olympic medallist with the winning smile vanished with each passing minute. His skin became taut, grey, lines creased his forehead and dragged down the sides of his mouth as it set in a grimace.

After sixty minutes and 50.052km, he finally allowed his body to rest. Officials had to peel the 21-year-old cyclist off his bike and support him as he eased into a chair where he had not the energy to unzip his jersey.

The hour record is the most prestigious in cycling, partly because it can be soul-destroying. In a sport where guts is measured in ridiculous feats of endurance, this is the ultimate.

And most riders, even the great ones, don't attempt it before they achieve the physical and mental fortitude of their mid- to late-20s.

Then along comes Brad McGee, youngest of four bike-mad brothers from Wentworthville in western Sydney. Entered his first race at the Dubbo Easter Carnival when he was 10, wearing stubby shorts, sneakers and riding a hand-me-down bike. He won from a handicap of 220m.

He was precocious then and is now. He was still an 18-year-old world junior champion when he first dared to think about attacking Neil Stephens' national one-hour record of 47.227km.

Stephens is recognised as one of the world's leading domestiques in European road racing, a role of guts rather than glamour. His job is to act as minder for his team leader, selflessly sacrificing his own chances by taking the load which will win the race for another man.

So it was presumptuous, at least, for McGee to consider himself, untested as he was, in the same company.

He finally climbed into the saddle to attempt it on Saturday night, March 15, at the Adelaide Superdrome, cheered on by a local crowd and thirty friends and relatives, who had taken an 18-hour bus ride from Sydney to watch him.

An hour later he had triumphed, not only over Stephens' mark, but more importantly over the previous limits of his body and mind.

"It's a very, very intense effort for a sustained period of time, which is what I am good at," he said ingenuously.

But he had never done it for more than 20 minutes and said later a psychiatrist would have committed him for some of the thoughts that went through his head over the last half of the task.

AIS cycling team physiologist Neil Craig calculates that McGee was working at 95-96 per cent of his maximum for the entire hour.

"That's extremely high. Conditioning can get you so far but you need mental strength to go for that long," Craig said.

"I was in this euphoric state," McGee said.

"For the last 20-30 minutes the pain was so high I was on the verge of passing out, and in the last 15 minutes everything went numb. I think it's taken a few years off the end of my life."

But what it has given McGee in the meantime is a sense of his own power.

"I have such confidence now. If I can go that hard, that long, for an hour, then stepping into a 4km event which is over in about 4m 20s, there will be no stopping me."

The proof of that statement was provided immediately.

The morning after he set the national one-hour record McGee, still crippled with muscle soreness, flew to Tasmania for the national track championships. When he got back in the saddle to loosen up that afternoon he thought ruefully of the next day's title defence, believing "this is going to be embarrassing".

But by the next morning his battered muscles had regenerated, and he set a national record in his 4000m pursuit heat, and again in the semi-final. His winning time in the final was slightly slower but all three rides were faster than his Olympic bronze medal-winning time in Atlanta.

"Usually, you lag and start to die at the end of a 4km race, but my last kilometre in my semi was my fastest of the day," he said.

"The hour helped me. I was tired and mentally fatigued, but the thing that mattered was that I knew my body and my mind."

His body went one more round to help NSW score an upset win over South Australia in the team pursuit and he still had the energy to spend the next Sunday afternoon waterskiing with his brothers back in Sydney.

They are a close family. He is based at the Australian Institute of Sport in Adelaide with head coach Charlie Walsh, and spends half of each year training and racing overseas, so he sees them infrequently but doesn't waste any time when he does.

"My brother picked me up at the airport, I changed into my Speedos in the car, and an hour later we were waterskiing on the Hawkesbury River," he said.

His family call him Nipper, because of his small stature as a child, even though he is now almost 183cm tall and may one day be the biggest thing to hit Australian cycling.

McGee won his first world junior pursuit title in 1993 in Perth, two days before Sydney was awarded the 2000 Olympic Games.

That set his course for the next seven years, and he has worked single-mindedly towards becoming the Olympic 4000m individual pursuit champion in his hometown.

In 1994, he won another world junior title and the Commonwealth Games gold medal; in 1995 he was a member of the world champion pursuit team. Last year he was the Olympic bronze medallist in both the individual and team pursuit.

This year he believes he is ready to step up in the open ranks, with the world track championships in August in Australia back in Perth where he won his first world title.

"I still don't think I will be at my best, but I am definitely a lot better chance this year than I was last year. I am already a couple of seconds faster than I was at this stage last year," he said.

Last year's world 4000m pursuit champion and the 1992 Olympic champion, Chris Boardman of Great Britain, will be absent, focusing instead on the road time trial title.

But McGee believes, given time, he can lure the Briton back to the track.

"If someone steps up to make a challenge to him, he will come back," he said. "I don't think anyone can say they are world champion (in the pursuit) unless Chris Boardman is there."

While the Olympic pursuit title remains his No.1 priority, McGee has plenty to keep him occupied in the next three years. He left last week with the Australian Institute of Sport track team for Italy, where they will ride a series of one-day road races and tours, tempering their endurance for the track.

After the world titles, he will turn professional and join the new French road team, Francaise des Jeux (French Lotto), for the end of the European road season.

He has signed a lucrative three-year deal to ride for the team, which will also allow him to pursue his track career.

He also intends to try the 40km road time trial in the next year, with a view to possibly adding it to his repertoire in Sydney, as long as it doesn't conflict with the pursuit.

And he calls his one-hour record the "start of a seven- or eight-year campaign", leading to the world one-hour record, currently held by that man Boardman at 56.375km.