|Baton or bidon? (c) Getty Images|
The title of this blog (and its accompanying piece - Part 2) derive from a chapter from Sir Bradley Wiggins' account of his triumphant Tour in 2012. Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins are not just the most distinguished bikers in the UK, but arguably are the most unique pair of riders in the entire peloton. Known for their outspoken support of 'clean' racing, honest (but some might argue - brash) brand of insight into everything interesting in bike racing and a no-nonsense attitude towards training, they are a unique phenomenon because it is very rare to find two professionals of their calibre, attitude and dedication in the same generation of any brand of athletics, let alone same country and same sport. Personally, they are two of the most important reasons I watch biking. (El Pistolero completes the triumvirate).
Although it was Cav's "At Speed" (see Part 2 of this series) that I picked up first to quench my bike-lit thirst, I realized it into the first few chapters that a perfect foil to his story would be Bradley Wiggins' account over almost the same time period. So I started reading "My Time" with the ambitious goal of alternating between the books to cover the same events from multiple perspectives. Now, as with most best laid plans, this proved to be a harder task than I had envisioned - not due to any lack of effort on the part of yours truly, it should be noted - I just could not put "My Time" away to go back to Cav's account!
Bradley Wiggins' usual style of conversation does not lend itself to elegant and lucid prose, as most would agree. However, here he is aided-and-abetted by William Fotheringham, one of the foremost sports-writers and journalists covering the current pro-biking scene. The net result is an exceptionally well-paced memoir that is also a brutally honest look into the life of a pro-biker off-the-bike. Wiggins starts with his disastrous 2010 season and gives an unflinching description this period when his biking and personal life was at its lowest ebb. The reader is provided with a window into the life of Bradley as a person as well as part of the Team Sky project.
Along the way, we experience loss of close family members, a short excursion into his difficult childhood and Wiggins' strained relationship with his biker dad. The plot thickens as we get into 2011 and the changes that it brought. The inclusion of Cav into Team Sky did come with its share of logistical jugglery, but it is quite telling how important Wiggins thinks Cav's contribution to the team was - he dedicates an entire chapter to Cav, but a combined chapter to all other riders. That is not to say that Wiggins discounts their contribution, in fact he stresses continually that he would not be a winner of a Grand Tour if not for the selfless sacrifice from his teammates. Speaking of which, yes, the infamous incident on the slopes of La Toussuire finds a chapter of its own ("Under Attack").
History has a habit of shaping events to its own liking, so it is best to reserve any judgement on the incident until we have heard the other side of the story (Chris Froome's "The Climb" - probably coming out in time for this year's Tour.) In fact, Wiggins unequivocally states that Froome probably never thought about flicking him, he got carried away in the heat of the moment to secure a 1-2 for Team Sky on one of the most prestigious stages in racing. Although this incident marked a brief period of confusion and strategic rethinking, towards the end of the race, as it became certain that Wiggins would retain the yellow jersey all the way to Paris, things became much more enjoyable.
The 2012 season marks a high point in the history of British Cycling - Wiggins conquering Tour de France and then going on to win the Olympic gold less than 2 weeks later. What we are realizing now, is that the seeds of this success were sown as early as 1st November 2011 - the day Wiggins started training for his 2012 season. Winter is typically a time for bikers to get off the bike, but Sky literally upended the traditional pipeline of the biking season with its (then) radical approach of continuous training all year round, so that the riders hit the ground running in the opening races of the year. On a side note, looking at their repeat success in 2013, and looking at the fitness levels of their rivals at the start of 2014 (Valverde and Contador especially), other teams seem to have embraced this approach too. If so, this can only mean good, competitive racing all year round - a treat for the fans!
In terms of laying out the story, Wiggins spends as much ink talking about "the other team," his family and individuals who have shaped him as a person and athlete. True to his style, Wiggins candidly describes the pressures of training and the weight of eventual stardom borne by his family. While we are somewhat familiar with Wiggins the passionate cyclist (and a very well respected historian of sorts in the peloton), we are introduced to the working class hero who rose from a humble background, with the simple goal of providing a good, stable future for his family. If one is allowed to be a mite sentimental, then we might safely assume that this book is his offering of gratitude to his fans - by offering them a glimpse of the person behind the rider.
|The moment when it all came together on the Champs-Élysées|
(Part 2 of this series will cover "At Speed" by Mark Cavendish)