In Pursuit of Glory
June 9, 2012 § 12 Comments
This stinker sits at #46 of Cycle Sport magazine’s listing of the greatest cycling books of all time. It’s the “as told to” autobiography of Bradley Wiggins. The whole point of the book, which came out in 2008, was to make a quick buck on his medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Why else summarize your life and accomplishments when you’re still in the middle of a prodigiously successful career?
To say this book was thrown together does a huge injustice to all of the things in life that are thrown together and work out remarkably well: last minute suppers, clingy little negligee ensembles, and shotgun weddings that end up producing good kids and successful marriages. “In Pursuit of Glory” wasn’t thrown together. It was pooped out.
Ninety-nine percent of all the sentences in this book include first person references to Brad. It reads like this. “I, while doing the me for myself, our on the we, and myself on the I gave another chance for me to I and us to we our mine, against all my. That’s why I we, was for me. Brad Wiggins, the I and myself, did it me.”
Someone forgot to tell Brad that autobiography should reveal the surrounding stories, influences, and experiences of others that combined to create the life of the subject. The narcissistic, self-satisfied, preachy tone of the book is made more grating by the spelling errors, grammatical errors, sentences without subjects, bad organization, and absence of a coherent story.
On the plus side, the book allows you to pithily sum up Mr. Wiggins’s life and personality.
- His father was a successful track racer in the 80’s, an alcoholic, and a deadbeat dad.
- Brad is a successful track racer, a functional alcoholic, and a loving, responsible dad.
- Brad’s success is the result of the people who have managed him.
- Brad is an anxiety ridden, somewhat depressed narcissist.
- Brad is one of the greatest British athletes of all time.
No coal miner’s daughter here
You know those stories about some poor Belgian farmer who dies? He’s got five sons and the widow is ill. The eldest son gathers the family under the flickering lone light bulb hanging over the bare kitchen table. “Well, Mum, the only way I can pay the mortgage on the farm is if I turn pro and win the Ronde in April.”
He trains throughout the harsh Belgian winter, throughout the brutal spring, going better and better as the grim howl of the wolf at the door and horrible abyss of failure are counterbalanced only by his indomitable will to win. The big day arrives and he crosses the line first, securing a future for his family and having his name writ large among the immortals of the road.
Brad Wiggins’s story is, uh, not quite like that. His mom turned him on to track cycling at an early age, influenced by the career of his runaway dad. Immediately he began to win. Soon he was under the tutelage of Chris Boardman. A natural athlete with a track pedigree, he was coddled, nurtured, shaped, and pushed all the way to his first Olympic gold medal at Athens in the individual pursuit in 2004.
Except for the occasional up and down as befits a clinically depressed functional alcoholic, Wiggins’s story is about as sexy as a white lab coat. In 2008 his medal haul in Beijing made him the second most decorated British Olympian of all time. In 2012 he stands to become the greatest ever. Like British food, it’s really exciting.
A few gems for cyclists
Wankmeister digs through the shit to find the pearls so you don’t have to. So even though this book is a series of “I’m incredibly talented and my dad was a deadbeat” vignettes calibrated on high “whine,” there are a few passages of interest to cyclists.
First is Wiggins’s description of the team pursuit. Wiggins is one of the all time great pursuiters, and his explanation of how the four-man team rode at the world’s in Manchester and at Beijing is matchless. When he bothers to talk about track cycling, he is a savant. The clumsiness of the writing can’t begin to dull the brilliance with which he explains the mechanics of this event. Unfortunately, it’s brief–just a few pages long.
Second is his attitude toward doping. Though he mouths the standard “I hate dopers” line, and though his early road career shows the bottom-of-the-barrel results one would expect from a non-doper in the age of rocket fueled cyclists, numerous of his comments are strange, such as when he refers to track cycling as “pure” in reference to its supposed absence of doping. Track cycling? Are you fucking kidding me?
This blind eye to doping continues when he dismisses Rob Hayles’s exclusion from the worlds and Olympic pursuit squads due to an elevated hematocrit. Wiggins asserts that there is no way it could have been from doping, which is interesting, because the one thing that an elevated hematocrit always indicates in a professional cyclist is the possibility of just that. Another completely bizarre comment is his remark that he always suspected Cofidis teammate and busted doper Christian Moreni to have been a cheater because he was older and at the end of his career. Old + End of Career = Doper. If that’s true, Brad’s got a lot of explaining to do about himself.
Must be the cheese he’s eating
Most interesting, however, is Wiggins’s analysis in his autobiography of what the future holds in store for him as a cyclist: In 2008 he wrote that would never win the Tour, but hoped to close out his career with perhaps a stage win, singular. A few short years later, after spending time with Columbia/HTC, then some time with Garmin/Slipstream, Wiggins has emerged with team SKY as the preeminent favorite to not simply win a stage in the Tour, but to win the entire race in dominating fashion.
Far from experiencing the typical Tour progression of exceptional road racer to Tour contender, Wiggins has gone from 124th in 2006, DNF in 2007, skipped the race entirely in 2008, rocketed to 4th in 2009, tumbled to 24th in 2010, crashed out in 2011, and reemerged after destroying this year’s Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie, and Dauphine to be head and shoulders above the competition. Here’s a pursuit rider winning the field sprint in La Chaux-de-Fonds at the Tour of Romandie? Effortlessly protecting his own lead at the Dauphiné as he single-handedly leads the chase and reels in the breakaway at Morzine – Châtel?
The 4km track specialist who could barely finish a grand tour (123rd in the 05 Giro, 134th in the 08 Giro, 71st in the 09 Giro, 40th in the 10 Giro) now climbs better than Evans, time trails like Tainted Meat, and sprunts like Cav? Aw, go fuck yourself in the ass you lying, cheating sonofabitch.
No Tour champion in history has this trajectory, or anything remotely like it, capping a career of mostly nondescript grand tour failures with an overwhelming lock on the favorites’ list for the very first time at the age of thirty-two. What happened?
Wiggins chalks it up to training like a swimmer. “My coach has not been in cycling for long, he’s come from swimming, so I’ve pretty much been training like the swimmers train,” Wiggins said a few days ago. He also claims that training in Tenerife, with its acidic air and high altitude, provides the missing toughness that he could never get in the UK. The final piece to his secret plan? Isolation and no distractions.
This sounds really familiar. Haven’t we heard from other great cyclists who produced incredible results, completely transforming themselves from “not even close” into TdF contenders that it was due to “new training methods” and “hard work”? Wasn’t there even an ad for that…something like “I’m on my bike. What are you on?”
The old saw that “I’m training harder than the other guys, that’s why I beat them by minutes” has been so thoroughly discredited that it’s amazing people still listen to it. The idea that the pro peloton is filled with riders who are lazy, or who don’t put in the hours, is ludicrous, with the possible exception of Abandy Schleck. “People just don’t understand he is a fantastic athlete,” purrs mouthpiece Sean Yates, former water carrier for Lance Armstrong.
Right. We’re too stupid to get that the greatest Olympian in British history is a fantastic athlete, kind of like how we didn’t understand what a phenom Lance or Jan were. It’s not that Wiggins’s performance is eyebrow raising, it’s that we’re too stupid to realize that he’s so good our eyebrows shouldn’t even raise.
Unfortunately, Yates can’t stay on the same page for long, immediately promising there’s loads more to come even after all this hard, grueling, mind bending work, and massive stage race victories. Hard as it all seems, and hard as Wiggins says it all is, “He’s not trained so hard [that] he’s exhausted, he’s just trained normally that he’s getting better and better,” explains Yates. Right. The more you train, the better you get. It’s that simple, which is why RAAM participants are so heavily recruited to ride the Tour.
Skeptics like me would instead say that Wiggins is part of the “new” new cycling, where doping quantities are reduced, and sophisticated programs are only available to the richest, most well-funded teams. The abandonment of the UCI’s biological passport, among other disturbing facts, points to a rider who’s finally gotten on a program that can turn him from a doormat to a champion.
Pursuit of glory, indeed.