Book Review: ‘The Race Against Time’ by Edward Pickering.

TheRaceAgainstTimeThe 90’s era in Cycling Weekly was dominated by Obree V Boardman. The internet was still slow & although information was available, it wasn’t in the quantity & quality we can access now. There was therefore plenty of information that we didn’t or couldn’t access, as Ed Pickering has shown in this book, that chasm was vast & incredibly interesting.

You don’t often read a book where you’ve met most of the characters, or been present at some of the ‘scenes’, but for many of us who were involved in cycling at that time, this is very much the case in the small enclosed world of cycling. Prior to the glossy world of lottery funding & a properly organised British Cycling setup (compared to the old BCF), everything & everybody was accessible & we thought we knew what as going on. What this book shows is that we really didn’t know the half of it!

The book mostly covers Boardman & Obree, with a bit more emphasis on the man from the Wirral. It shows how intertwined their careers & motivations were, while blowing apart some of the misconceptions about their personalities & thought processes. Obree’s position bans by the UCI are covered, along with the planned career progression of Boardman, contrasting with the short-term goal based strategy of Obree. We learn how & why each couldn’t really have done things differently. We also have the significant figures in the story of Peter Keen, Colin Sturgess, Mike Burrows & Doug ‘Doog’ Dailey. Pickering has interviewed all these people in the process of writing the book & the interactions with Keen are of particular interest to those who wonder just how the Olympic success came about.

Keen was Boardman’s coach, who later moved on to occupy the position that we all know belonged to Dave Brailsford, often forgetting who set the programme up & put the foundations in place to win the Tour with Wiggins. Without Keen, the success of the entire BC system would not have functioned, we would have something very different & much less successful.

Sturgess was the prodigious talent who pops up every now & again in the book, absolutely scaring the hell out of Boardman on several occasions with his physical ability. Burrows interviews are always very good, Pickering gets a lot out of him & I think we can all benefit from listening to what he says, a man who can visualise problems in a very different way, similar but also unlike Obree (it’s all in the book, too hard to explain in a blog). Doug Dailey is pivotal, we learn that without him in place at BC, Obree may never have got the chances he deserved & the success story may also not have transpired as it did. The book puts all this in perspective, the movers & shakers, who maybe didn’t have the plan you thought they did, they were just doing the correct things as they saw it, adding to the mix which somehow resulted in huge successes.

I’ve got a healthy dislike for flat time trials, so I was hoping that this book didn’t dwell on this too much, but this isn’t the case. There’s plenty of references to times, but the bread & butter of the book is Hour Records, national & international pursuit championships & the progression through the ranks of cycling. For Boardman that meant the Tour de France, which is covered later in the book, while Obree accounts his ‘shortest pro cycling career’ of approximately 12 hours. We also have some discussion on EPO & the effects it had on the careers of many, positive & negative to many who were using & not using these substances. I’ll leave all the anecdotes from the various characters to the book, it really is worth a read. It describes an era defined by two competing riders, it’s the definitive story of those times & I can see me picking it up in 20 years time & getting just as much out of it.

It says on the back it’s available on e-book & it’s published by Bantam Press, go & get it,  I’m only doing reviews of books I really like.

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