Written by Sir Bradley Wiggins, CBE (and William Fotheringham)
This is (at least) the second volume of autobiography from Sir Bradley Wiggins – the first was “In Pursuit of Glory”. This volume, published after that glorious summer of 2012 when he won the Tour de France and Olympic Gold in the road Time Trial, covers the build up to that summer (starting at the end of 2009 and the formation of Team Sky) finishing with some of the aftermath of that triumph.
When Team Sky was first mooted in early 2009 the plan was to try and find a British winner of the Tour de France within five years. The problem was there were not really any British cyclists who were anywhere close to being good enough to do that. Wiggins at this stage was mainly known as an Olympic track cyclist who could do well on short time trials, Cavendish was admittedly one of the top sprinters in the world but that would not be enough to win the Tour and the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were talented domestiques but nothing more. The one cyclist who could perhaps once have gone on to challenge was David Millar but he has been banned for doping in 2004 and never quite fulfilled his potential after returning to the sport.
That all changed in the 2009 Tour de France when Bradley Wiggins shocked the world (and also a little himself) by riding to 4th (and then 3rd once Lance Armstrong’s drug fuelled result was removed) overall in the Tour de France. It is at this point that this book starts and we get some interesting insight into how Team Sky came into being and also how it set out to change the world of road cycling by applying what appear to be quite sensible and fairly obvious training and performance techniques. You wonder what sort of witless amateurs had been running cycling teams up to this point (though that does perhaps explain why they needed to dope to improve their performance given the lack of innovative thinking apparently on show).
In addition to these insights we also see how throughout Wiggins’ life British Cycling and Team Sky acted as a sort of surrogate family in particular the strong male figures such as Sir David Brailsford, Shane Sutton and Sean Yates who seem to act as replacement father’s to replace Wiggins own absentee father and then his Grandfather who passes away in one of the more emotional passages in the book.
This book does touch on the Lance Armstrong controversy – and one gets a very good sense of the anger it caused but we also are told of a touching scene when Wiggins and his son are watching Lance admit his guilt to Oprah and tell how Lance had to tell his son he is a despicable shit (I paraphrase) and how happy it made Wiggins feel to know he would never need to have that conversation with his son.
Wiggins’ anger seems twofold not just the damage he did to the peloton by stealing results but more the damage he has done to the sport and the effort successful riders now have to go through rebutting the inevitable accusations of cheating if a rider is any good. You do also get a good explanation of how British Cycling is so much more dominant now – because it developed outside of the traditional European cycling culture which became so infected by the cancer of doping.
There is a good chapter about the Froome-Wiggins relationship during the 2012 Tour. We get the sense that Wiggins could not comprehend why Froome appeared to be attacking as it was not needed to help Brad win – which is of course understandable in this most ‘team’ of team sports. Earlier in the book we also get some rather sniffy comments about Froome’s lack of cycling pedigree and lack of knowledge of the history of cycling and British cycling and how it makes him appear somewhat naïve. One man’s ‘naïve’ is of course ‘refreshing’ to someone tired of the old ways (which is the mantra of Team Sky).
You do also see something of the overwhelming attention that Wiggins got after winning the Tour and the details of the London Olympics triumph (and failure in the Road Race) and you can start to see the toll all the media appearances and promo work can have on someone trying to be a world class athlete.
There is a curious passage right at the end of the book where Wiggins considers the possibility (as it was when the book was being written) of receiving a Knighthood. He apparently was considering rejecting it as he had always felt awkward about hierarchy and status. This does not though, seem to fit with his views about hierarchy and status within the peloton, Team Sky or British cycling but this inconsistency does not get addressed and as events transpired it seems he quite rightly over came any awkwardness.
So what is the overall view? Well this book is not a traditional autobiography so you do not have to slog through interminable tedium as you work through childhood experiences etc. – with this you just jump straight into the action and it is compellingly told. There is an honesty and directness about the prose and you are drawn into the narrative and you do get some sense of what it must have been like to enjoy that glorious summer of 2012. Recommended.
Next up… Domestique by Charly Wegelius. Britain’s greatest cyclist no one’s ever heard of or a despicable traitor – let’s find out…