Friday, October 31, 2008

In pursuit of glory – a review by Mimitig

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any of my readers to know that I am a huge fan of cycling. Those who have followed my coverage of Le Tour over the past few years know how devastated I have been by the drug scandals, but how much I have believed in the clean teams and the clean riders.

We have been treated to a book by a rare beast.

Bradley Wiggins – Wiggo – is one of those riders who has been in a dirty Tour, seen all the rubbish – and is sure enough of the future to commit to at least one more Tour.

His book, In Pursuit of Glory, makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in sport. Any sport.

And actually any human endeavour of any kind.

Wiggins has a fascinating story – even without his recent Olympic success, and while his story would be worth reading however it was told, he has hooked up with a very distinguished journalist, Brendan Gallagher, to bring us a sports biog that is a bit classier than some.

Rather unfortunately, and this is entirely down to his editor, there is a typo in line one of the Acknowledgements. If I worked for Orion, in any capacity, I would feel humiliated that a high-profile, potentially best-selling, late season (ie published too late to make this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year List but therefore may be OK for next year) book has gone into its first print run with an effing typo on page one. In my day (grrr, humph, humph) such poor copy-editing would lead to a sacking.

However, these days no-one cares. And looking at the bigger picture of this book, I don’t care that much. It just niggled.

Anyway, we get into the text. It’s a very well structured book. Chapter One – emotionally for Brad, but delightfully for me is entitled “It’s Four in the Morning”. We start with something that was covered a little bit by the press – the death of Bradley Wiggins’s estranged father in Australia. This happening in the year that is one of Wiggo’s most important years in his career as a cyclist.

I opened the page, read the chapter title and just had Farron Young in my head. However, getting over my immediate reaction I launched into this book and was lost.

Bradley and Gallagher have collaborated on a book that really does do what it says on the tin. There are unbelievably frank writings on Brad’s relationship with his father. For those who don’t know the history, Brad’s father was a wild, hard-drinking, drugging Aussie who plied his trade in the hard arena of European Track cycling. He was a Madison champion and had a career, but at the expense of his various wives and families.

Having abandoned a first wife in Australia, he met Linda, Bradley’s mum, when he turned to Europe for his career. All his successes are fully detailed in this book, and although he then left Linda and their son, there is very little bitterness here.

What I find touching and moving is that despite being born in Belgium and half Australian, Bradley Wiggins has always felt totally British, and this before he started earning a living through lottery funding. It just comes through in the book that his early years, cycling and crashing in west and south London, just make him a Londoner.

A lot of this book might be dull for those not interested in cycling – there are details of training and races that only a fan really cares about, but there is much more.

The insights into the post-Athens let down are fascinating. As a fan of cycling, I thought there would be a lot of coverage of the success there, but there wasn’t and I can understand how deflated Wiggins felt.

One of the great things about this book is how much we learn about all the other people, and one who is mostly unknown is Steve Peters. I was really surprised how much of the important stuff in GB Cycling’s success is down to this totally unsung hero.

Wiggins is unstinting in his praise for the chaps who’ve helped him be the multi-Olympic champ he is, but above all others, his praise for Peters is noticeable.

Did any of you know that Peters is so highly qualified that he “is on call with police forces around the country”? That he has worked at Rampton?

Now, I’m not suggesting that our athletes need a forensic psychiatrist to deal with their problems, but after reading this book, it becomes clear that for a GB team to achieve at the highest levels, they need the best experts and GB Cycling have recognised this.

Wiggins got this, and used all the resources to overcome his personal demons.

With this help, Wiggins got back in tune with both track and road, and his book describes the heartaches of both disciplines. He is an extraordinary athlete and needs to be celebrated as such.

It is quite possible, if the UCI and ASO get together, that we could have a really good, clean tour next year.

Bradley believes in this – it’s why he will do it again, another 2500kms around France. Dragging the body over the mountains. He’s done it before and suffered the utter humiliation of being arrested and thrown off the Tour for someone else’s crap.

There are so many stories in this book – it could have been at least two books. After all, how can you compare track and road – is Hoy mightier than Cav?

In this book, Wiggins accords the same awe and regard to his track cohort Chris “The Mighty” Hoy and the Manx Express, Mark Cavendish – who blitzed the Tour this year with four sprint wins.

Underneath all the sporting details are Bradley’s truths about his family. It makes for a very coherent book. We learn about Brad from early days to total success and the importance of Cath and his children – held up against Brad’s childhood.

I wrote about Marcus Trescothick’s book last time out, and that one was more about struggle than success.

I would suggest that Wiggo’s book is all about understanding failure and searching for the support to deal with it. If Steve Peters had looked after Tres in the way he looks after the cycling boys and girls, I think Tres might never had suffered his terrible breakdowns.

AND there is one person in this review that I haven’t mentioned, which is poor. At the very beginning of Wiggo’s book, he tells the readers that his inspiration was watching Chris Boardman in the Barcelona Olympics.

Chris went on to become, and still is, an absolutely vital part of Team GB Cycling. Brad does make that plain, but if there is a weakness, or gap, in this book, it is the part that Chris plays in GB Cycling.

While I know he is a modest guy who seeks no glory, anyone who gives the slightest toss about the huge haul of medals we got at Beijing, from Nicole to Chris to Vicky to Brad, we know that Chris has done it.

If there is any justice in the sporting world, the rubbish BBC SPOTY team award will go to our cyclists, and Chris will pick up the trophy.

But this is about the book – should you read it? Yes – even if cycling means nothing to you, read about one man’s determination to be the best. Read about ridiculous cycling tournaments in Belgium when they are all pissed to the hilt.

Read about how one man’s dysfunctional upbringing can change when he becomes a father.

Read about why the Tour still matters.

But mostly read because any Mod who dares name Chapter One for Farron Young is either a genius or mad.

If I were still in London, I’d be out on my bike after reading this, and challenging my crew to beat my time for our Time-Trial. Cos I’d be so inspired that I’m sure I could do it.

Now this one isn’t up for the prize this year. Published too late, but the William Hill Shortlist does include one I’ve reviewed here earlier – Marcus Trescothick’s Coming Back to me, and Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid has also made the shortlist. Naylor has reviewed JW’s book, so anyone interested can find it.

Me – I want JW to win, but I also want people to read me.


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