The soundtrack to the summer of 1996 was unquestionably ‘Wannabe’, the infectious pop smash hit that catapulted the Spice Girls into the British and international consciousness. It, along with Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’, heralded the start of new era, Britpop, where an all-conquering cohort of Brits would take the music scene at home and abroad by storm.
Lines like “Get your act together we could be just fine,” could have been aimed at the British cycling scene, which was on the verge of experiencing a similar journey to world domination – albeit at a slower rate. But for that summer, as the countdown began for the Atlanta Olympics, the old order still reigned.
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The sport was short on money and compromises had to be made in the build- up – even a Rolling Stone was tapped up to help finance the trip. It was the last Olympic cycle they would undertake on a shoestring budget. Lottery funding came in the following year and British Cycling’s march – Union Jack miniskirt not included – to world domination would follow. But for now things were very much done on the cheap.
Central to making the most of that on the road to Atlanta was Doug Dailey, head coach of the British team for the previous 10 years and a professional racer himself before that. He was a central figure in the running of the elite programme, such as it was, and despite retiring after the 1996 Games, would go on to return in a logistics role for every Olympics up to 2008.
Getting a team qualified and ready for the 1996 Olympic Games had been anything but straightforward. The sport was moving to the ‘open era’ where pros and amateurs would compete on equal terms – an effort to ensure the riders at the Olympics really were the world’s best.
Prior to that, Dailey had been able to take “as many riders as the British Olympic Association [BOA] could afford”. He says: “The UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] had set up a qualification process, so that there was a real quality control exercise. And that’s why our team was relatively small. There were events that we had no competitors in at all, which was different to previous Games.”
The bulk of that qualification took place at the 1995 World Championships in Bogota and Duitama, Colombia. The only hitch for the Brits making the trip was that both cities are at over 8,000ft in altitude. “What a nightmare,” recalls Dailey. “We had to use a lot of imagination to get a decent team, the best team we could afford, out to Colombia.”
Read the full article in the current issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe and get six issues for just six pounds. Also in this issue: Alan Newton, Britain’s oldest living Olympic medalist, riders recall their Games memories, riders family watching Rio success on the television and the last time the Games went to Tokyo.