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Page last updated at 12:45 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 13:45 UK

Project Pooley pays off for Brits

By Claire Stocks & Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport in Beijing

Nicole Cooke (left, with her gold) and Emma Pooley (right, with her silver)
Emma gave everything to help me win and now she has got a medal of her own

Nicole Cooke

Cyclist Emma Pooley's time trial silver medal is more proof that British Cycling's elite programme is working, says Olympic medallist Chris Boardman.

Boardman was a consultant on "Project Pooley" which built a special small bike for the 25-year-old in Beijing.

"A medal was not a long shot but it was an outside shot and it's great when everybody gets this level of payback," Boardman told BBC Sport.

Pooley added: "You hope for a medal but you have to keep it secret."

Pooley, who won silver in the time trial on Wednesday, showed no obvious after effects from Sunday's gruelling rain-hit road race, where she helped Nicole Cooke to gold, and was strong going uphill as usual.

But the key to her success was in the descents, where her light frame would normally be a disadvantage.

"She trained for the descent - not the climb - because that was going to be her weakness," said Boardman.

At little more than 5ft tall and weighing no more than 49kg, Pooley does not have the traditional physique of an elite cyclist.

The Zurich-based rider is more suited to cross-country running - which was her competitive sport of choice before she decided to switch disciplines three years ago.

She only took up cycling as a way of keeping fit while she was injured and unable to run.

In October 2007, Pooley, an engineering graduate from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, entered the World Time Trial Championships and finished eighth.

It was only then that she, coach Dan Hunt and British Cycling, clocked that she might have a real chance of a medal.

As Boardman explained: "It was a rolling course and Emma was eighth so we said 'You know what, the Olympic course is much more mountainous, so if we really focus on this, how much more progress could we make?"

The answer was quite a lot. But only with the trademark attention to detail and military precision we have come to expect from Britain's elite cyclists.

"We pulled together a group of specialists - coaches, psychologists, bike experts - into a kind of commando unit, we called it Project Pooley."

One of the first things the Project team did was analyse Pooley's physique.

Her diminutive stature was a problem but the team built a special small-framed bike with special handlebars to help turn it to her advantage.

"We developed a completely different bike that allowed her to make use of her very small size, which is fantastic for going up hills - but not much good for coming down, when it is about power.

"The problem was, there was not a lot of proprietary equipment out there on the mainstream market that was small enough.

One's natural reaction is to back off the pedals as soon as the road starts sloping down

Chris Boardman

"So, we developed something special for her that allows her to get into that really tucked position coming down - because her advantage is that being small she doesn't hit a lot of air."

Pooley's coach also gave her videos of the course which she could watch again and again at home - pedalling full tilt down hill and reaching speeds of up to 60 kph it helps to know the course inside out.

And she was out in China practising on the course in Badaling in the depths of winter when snow lay on the ground.

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"She did brilliantly, as she took time out of most of the big names in cycling on the descent which is incredible - everyone except Armstrong who got the gold," said Boardman.

"One's natural reaction is to back off the pedals as soon as the road starts sloping down.

"But like anything else it is trainable to reduce that. What she would have been trying to achieve is exactly the same power uphill as down - the only thing that changes is the speed."

Of course, it would not have mattered how much research and development Project Pooley had undertaken, had they not had a rider with the guts to win.

Asked afterwards whether she'd had a race plan, Pooley replied: "No, you just have to ride like you never have to breathe again."


Cycling Sport medals table

Monday, 18 August 2008 15:37 UK
Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze TOTAL

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see also
Cooke grabs first GB gold medal
10 Aug 08 |  Cycling
Beijing 2008
14 Feb 08 |  Olympics
Olympics blog
07 Aug 08 |  Olympics
The role of a sprint cyclist
03 May 08 |  Cycling


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