Rio Olympics, Team Pursuit: Ed Clancy, Steve Burke, Owain Doull and Bradley Wiggins | Ian MacNicol/ Getty Images
Title: The Medal Factory- British Cycling and the Cost of GoldAuthor: Kenny PrydePublisher: Pursuit BooksYear: 2020 Sheets: 308 Order: Profile BooksWhat it is: A look at British cycling and its transformation in the years since Lottery funding came alongStrengths: Pryde appears to offer a balanced look at British cycling’s rutted recent autobiography, affirming the appraisals levelled at the national federation, the funding body, coaches, and ridersWeaknesses: Pryde is insulting of most all evaluation but exclusively reinforces many of the complaints in the manner of his argument
Ben Stansall/ AFP/ Getty Images
London, February 2011: Dave Brailsford and Seb Coe, surrounded by members of the British Cycling track squad including Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Jason Kenny, celebrating the formal opening of the 2012 velodrome
“Was ever a play so fulsomely praised before being brought to its knees as quickly as British cycling? Gleefully celebrated in the national media as a award plant then pilloried as a den of cheating sexist bullies in the seat of a few weeks, British cycling and equestrians were subjected to a forensic public interrogation. Having acted its action to the top of world cycling after nearly twenty years of struggle, British cycling’s coaches, riders and honour were all but destroyed during a six-month horrow[ sic] establish of grotesque headlines and allegations. How did it happen, to come so far and to disappoint so fast? ”
Like the apocryphal hotel doorman who invited George Best where did it all go wrong, Kenny Pryde’s The Medal Factory- British Cycling and the Cost of Gold asks the same question of British Cycling and its still-mounting haul of bangles, baubles and assorted jumpers. The tally to-date is worth recalling: “over fifty world champions on track and road, ” says Pryde, “three Tour de France winners, six Expeditions de France, two Vueltas, one Giro, a fortify of one day classics, a macrocosm occasion trial championship, three macrocosm names( Cooke, Cavendish, Armitstead ), four Hour Records and knighthoods for Sir Wiggo, Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Dave B.”
Some will recall that the history of British cycling’s dizzying ascent has already been told in part by Richard Moore, twelve years ago in the half-good/ half-rotten Heroes, Villains& Velodromes- Chris Hoy and Britain’s Track Cycling Revolution, with its superior sequel-of-sorts Sky’s The Limit- British Cycling’s Quest To Conquer The Tour de France picking up the narrative 3 years later as the depict went on the road. The tale of the rise and rise and rise of British cycling has also been touched upon in the many instantly forgettable’ Great British Bike Story’ works from the likes of Chris Sidwells, Ellis Bacon, Robert Dineen, Ned Boulting and more. And, of course, there’s the two dozen or so chamoirs telling parts of the inside story.
With the story of the Rise having already been told so many times, The Medal Factory’s USP is required to be how it tells the story of the Fall, right? Time to recall that dizzying descent.
The Medal Factory – British Cycling and the Cost of Gold, by Kenny Pryde, published by Pursuit Books
In the same way that the traditional cycling season start with the Race to the Sun and ends with the Race of the Falling Leaves, there is an element of symmetry in the history of British cycling’s Rise and Fall: both portions started in the Palace of Westminster, with questions asked in Parliament about the confederation in 1996( Pryde tells us it was 1995) and the heads of British Cycling and Team Sky appear before a Commons Select Committee in 2016. Like Moore in Heroes, Villains and Velodromes, the background to those parliamentary questions in 1996- the takeover that intent Tony Doyle’s brief reign and resulted in the rise to power of Peter King, Brian Cookson, and Peter Keen- is somewhat interpreted over by Pryde( regrettably, as Doyle’s tenure is one hell of a narration, and some of their own problems highlighted then are also alleged to have been happening two decades later ). The 2016 difficulties, of course, are key to the story Pryde has to tell.
The Fall, Pryde tells us, began with Jess Varnish and a “seemingly minor outburst from a baffled rider” at the March 2016 World Track Championships in London. As the media “followed up and enlarged her criticisms”, Pryde tells us, “social media sounded with outrage and support.” In April Varnish was dropped from British Cycling’s Olympic Podium programme and “just two days after her deselection became public knowledge, a back-page lead story on Varnish appeared in the Daily Mail highlighting accusations of sexism and bullying that would, in the end, cost[ Shane] Sutton his job.” Varnish, Pryde tells us, had “opted to go out swinging, with a blow rather than a whimper.” In a topic that runs throughout The Medal Factory, Pryde tells us that “social media feeds fired with plot thoughts and resentment, while the legend was widely shared.”
Within daylights, Varnish’s allegations were followed by fresh allegations of bullying, from Paralympian cyclist Darren Kenny and a couple of anonymous insiders who spoke to the Mail’s Martha Kelner( a journalist who breach various of the tales narrated by Pryde but who, unlike her male peers, Pryde feels no need to credit ). In addition, Pryde tells us, Nicole Cooke had already “added her voice to the chorus of high-profile critics”, as had Victoria Pendleton. Before April was out Sutton had resigned, after having been put on gardening leave pending an investigation into Varnish’s charges.
Around the same time as all this was happening, it was revealed that Simon Yates was facing time on the racy stair for the wrong abuse of an asthma inhaler. Some columnists would use this to foreshadow the theatre to come with Chris Froome but not Pryde, for whom the incident isn’t even worthy of comment.
May, June, and July elapsed without major incident. Then came the Armitstead affaire, when “the media revealed that Britain’s reigning world road race champion Lizzie Armitstead had been tasked with an anti-doping violation following three infractions in a year.” When the CAS ruled that one of Armitstead’s whereabouts lacks wasn’t her omission, she was cleared to compete in the Rio Olympics but, Pryde tells us, once again “British riders were in the news for the worst reasons.”
Eric Gaillard/ Getty Images
Lizzie Armitstead only attained it to Rio after reassuring the Court of Arbitration for Sport that one of three whereabouts failures she had accrued should be struck out.
If this was really British Cycling’s annus horribilis- and Pryde tells us it was- that initial descent was followed by a impressive dead cat bounce, with Chris Froome adding another maillot jaune to his accumulation before the Armitstead affaire became common knowledge and the UK’s Olympians bringing home a dozen honours from the Rio Olympics, six of them gold, while the Paralympians obtained twenty-one, a dozen gilded hued.
Things took a turn for the worse come September, after Russian hackers broke into WADA’s database system and released information relating to TUEs obtained by a number of Olympic contestants. “The Fancy Bears’ conflation of TUE-regulated use of’ medicines’ with the State-sanctioned administering and covered under of erythropoietin( EPO) and anabolic steroid employment was risible, ” Pryde tells us, although it’s not become clear where the intruders acquired such claims. The initial handout of data reported high-profile athletes Simone Biles and Serena and Venus Williams. Subsequent liberates situated the spotlight on cyclists including Emma Johansson, Fabian Cancellara, Jacob Fuglsang, and Stephen Cummings, Jack Bobridge and Laura Trott, and Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Of all the athletes named- cyclists and non-cyclists alike- only one suffered any lasting reputational detriment: Wiggins. One could ask why this is so but Pryde doesn’t.
Then came the Jiffy bag 😛 TAGEND
“Someone nursing a antipathy- or with little sense of what would ultimately be unleashed- contacted the Daily Mail journalist and serial British cycling tormentor Matt Lawton and is likely to him that he should ask questions and find out what was in a Jiffy bag that had been delivered to Wiggins and Team Sky at the French Criterium du Dauphine stage race. […] If Varnish’s story had been a relatively localised liaison- women’s racing inside British cycling- the Jiffy bag imbroglio explicitly tied British Cycling to Team Sky, as medical organization, records, storage and transportation swept unhindered and apparently unrecorded between the two entities.”
Who could this anonymous source with a rancour maybe be? Pryde has absolutely no interest in revealing his identity, even though by now most all of us know his name: Shane Sutton.
Adding insult to injury, the Mail went on to reveal that Wiggins had had a Whereabouts violation before the Rio Olympics and prompted books of observations “hes had” uttered criticising Armitstead simply one month earlier. Pryde picks not to mention this incident in The Medal Factory.
Pryde does tell us that “these tales all play the game during a febrile summer, when numerous British sport organisations were stirring report for the worst reasons. An nobility GB Canoeing coach was under investigation for sexual indecency with jocks, as was a coach from the UK Sport-funded Archery GB. Around the same time, the GB Bobsleigh crew was being investigated for racism, its fund administered immediately by UK Sport rather than its national federation. And, speaking of racism, the English women’s national football overseer was accused of the same, and lost his job.” Unfortunately for Pryde- and whoever edited this diary- none of these tales separate until the subsequent year, leaving open to question just how fevered the sky at the time actually was and whether it’s fair to insinuate- as Pryde seeks to do- that the allegations levelled at British Cycling and British cyclists were the product of some form of fever-induced mass hysteria.
Pryde goes on to tell us that “such was the tide of bad news throughout 2016- predominantly for cycling and athletics- that members of the subcommittee of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport( DCMS) decided an inquiry was required.” This is another claim that is not quite faithful to world and the DCMS Committee’s doping inquiry actually began in 2015 with its initial focus being tellings made by the Sunday Times and ARD concerning the IAAF. British Cycling only got cleaned up into the investigation following the TUEs and the Jiffy bag stories.
In December Shane Sutton and Dave Brailsford both appeared before the Committee to give evidence, along with British Cycling’s Robert Howden. This followed forms in 2015 by UKAD’s Nicole Sapstead and David Kenworthy, WADA’s David Howman, the IAAF’s Sebastian Coe, and earlier in 2016 UK Athletics’s Ed Warner, among others. Pryde tells us that the Committee’s broadcasted evidence-gathering periods “made for grisly viewing in which many chassis were quizzed and found wanting by a collecting of politicians goal, at the very least, on talking tough to people who primarily appeared underprepared.”
In March 2017 came more bad news when it was revealed that a consignment of Testogel sachets had been delivered to the British Cycling and Team Sky physician Richard Freeman at the Manchester velodrome. Freeman had already become something of an shame for British Cycling and Team Sky, first when he skipped out of a scheduled DCMS Committee appearance and then when when his poor record-keeping and stolen laptop were divulged. While those fibs could be shrugged off, the word that he had been in receipt of a delivery of testosterone was a serious charge.
As if all this and its on-going fallout over subsequent months wasn’t enough to be dealing with, in December 2017- a year after Brailsford and Sutton’s DCMS images, during which time Sky had added another Tour de France victory to their haul, as well as a prevail in the Vuelta a Espana, the first Grand Tour doubled since 2008- it was revealed that Chris Froome was fighting an anti-doping charge.
The affairs above even out the first chapter of The Medal Factory, with Pryde often forgotten that, earlier today in the book, he is actually precisely be setting out his stalling and instead rushing in foot first to litigate the allegations spawned, leaving the reader bogged down early in detail and so blinded by the trees it becomes hard to see the forest. We then fall back in time twenty years to the story of where it all began, with the by-now familiar story of how Keen, King, Cookson and co rebuilt the Federation and how Dave Brailsford came to be its public face. After that there’s a by-the-numbers chronological walk-through of some of the medals prevailed until, two hundred sheets later, we finally get back to what should be the book’s meat and two veg, the fall from grace.
Does Pryde bring much hindsight to the retelling of British Cycling’s renaissance? Not actually. He certainly doesn’t question where different cultures that Varnish and others complained of came from, whether it was baked-in from the start or developed later. Certainly there is evidence it was baked-in. Graeme Obree’s autobiography contains aisles suggesting that, even before the onset of Lottery funding, British Cycling framed success ahead of athlete welfare. Or there’s the case of Wendy Everson who- like Varnish more than a decade later- made the federation to an employment tribunal. Pryde does mention this case, but only to indicate assignments weren’t learned about the employment status of equestrians( who, throughout, Pryde refers to as employees of British Cycling ). What Pryde neglects to tell the reader is that Everson’s case had more in common with Varnish’s than precisely the question of employment status. It also included allegations of bullying.
Martin Rickett/ PA Images/ Getty Images
For Kenny Pryde, Shane Sutton is a man more sinned against than sinner.
Overall, Pryde has little or no time for such allegations. In his reading “Sutton had been a divisive and abrasive character” but there was an almost unanimous belief “that he had been cruelly being addressed by riders whom he had helped enormously.” In fact, according to Pryde, Sutton was more sinned against than a sinner and it’s his critics who truly is essential to put under the spotlight.
Cooke, she can’t be trusted because she didn’t talk about the Halfords women’s road team in her autobiography, the same women’s road team that Tom Southam and Rob Hayles were members of.( And no, before “youre asking”, Hayles’ elevated haematocrit occurrence a few weeks after the Halfords team was launched isn’t mentioned by Pryde, even though it was serious enough to determine Brailsford consider ceasing. And yes, Hayles is one of Pryde’s sources ). Pendleton, she can’t be trusted because she didn’t talk about Sutton decorating her flat for her, which routine of kindliness is taken to mean that Sutton can’t truly has become a bully. Here’s a thing about bullying that Pryde either doesn’t understand or doesn’t be concerned about: if you really want to make a success of it, get the other person to need you, personally as well as professionally. Be their friend even as you torment them. Pryde, he’s more interested in turning the tables and telling us that it was actually Pendleton who was the bully.
If Pryde had been even-handed in his medication of Cooke and Pendleton perhaps his assessments would carry some load. But he’s not. Pryde quotes this denunciation of Cooke from an anonymous British Cycling insider 😛 TAGEND
“The thing that beings “ve forgotten” is that Nicole fell out with every unit she ever rode for- she varied teams just about every season. There’s no doubt that she could have been better managed, but there are too many parties ready to judge what happened a decade ago by today’s standards.”
Falling out with just about every team they travel for is also genuine of Bradley Wiggins, who wandered through a succession of street squads without ever seeming to find himself at home. But does Wiggins get the same treatment as Cooke? When Chris Boardman and Simon Jones have to arrest Wiggins’s post-Athens alcohol problem( or “a booze-fuelled bender” as Pryde sees it) is that seen as problematic? No it is not. When Wiggins again goes off the rails at the end of 2010 and has to be wet-nursed by Sutton is that seen as questionable? No “its not”. Instead we get’ Wiggy Stardust’ as a period name, “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive” as an epigraph, and fairly smoke blown up the arse of the Kid from Kilburn to give him lung cancer. Why? “In spite of the stories that started to seep out about Wiggins being difficult to deal with when things weren’t running his practice, ” Pryde informs us, “Wiggins still’ connected’ with British cycling devotees; he somehow transmitted a sense in which he was still’ one of them’.”
That Wiggins’s primary connection with the fans was through the media somehow seems lost on Pryde, a ex-serviceman of the British cycling media- he’s a onetime editor of Winning magazine( likewise the alma mater of Rupert Guinness) and Cycle Sport( which counts among its grads William Fotheringham)- and has been around the sport long enough to know much of the fib he tells in The Medal Factory without having to waste his time checking facts in repositories, or carrying out brand-new interviews.
In the 1980 s, for English-speaking cycling followers, Winning was the essence of what a good cycling magazine should be
That connection with the devotees seems to be what matters most to Pryde and The Medal Factory certainly doesn’t feel designed to rock the boat by deliver awkward truths. Pryde offers the appearing of offset by recognizing disapprovals levelled at British Cycling but is so dismissive of those doing the reviews that he yields them subdue. Rather than a nuanced look at the fib, Pryde is simply leaning in to the reviews offset before batting them apart dismissively.
Whose story is Pryde actually telling us in The Medal Factory? Some 70 -something people who spoke to the author are listed in the book’s Acknowledgements. Unlike road.cc’s honoured literary critic Richard Peploe, for whom a cycling work importance little than four out of five performs is a rare thing and who wrote of The Medal Factory( 4.5 stars) that he “struggled to think of numerous worthwhile interviewees who are missing- with the exception of Bradley Wiggins”, my mind was abuzz with all the utters silenced by Pryde. Take, for example, Steve Peters, the monkey spanking expert. who, along with Brailsford and Sutton, is seen as one of the foundations of British Cycling’s success. Ahead of The Medal Factory’s book he gave evidence at Richard Freeman’s MPTS tribunal hearing that not only decorated quite a negative picture of Sutton but too called into question the diligence of those who accomplished the UK Sport inquiry into Varnish’s bullying charges when he noted that he was not interviewed in connection with it, despite being the man Sutton reported to, and to whom British Cycling riders and staff complained about him.
Other silenced utters are more jarring when you consider the gender disparity within Pryde’s generators. Would it surprise you to learn that all bar two of the 70 -something people thanked are men? If asked to guess the women who would you listed? Varnish, Cooke, Pendleton? Emma Pooley? Rebecca Romero or Wendy Houvenaghel? All six of these have publicly discussed British Cycling’s shortcomings. All six others were neglected by Pryde when he selected those he needed to talk to when researching The Medal Factory. The only maids he thought to turn to were Debra Brown and Fran Millar. Millar is the now onetime Team Ineos CEO, Brown has been Brailsford’s PA since his British Cycling years. Neither is well known for expecting critical questions of the premium paid for the bangles, baubles and jerseys collected during British Cycling and Team Sky/ Ineos over the last two decades.
Bryn Lennon/ Getty Images
While she may have fired the starting pistol on British cycling’s annus horribilis Jessica Varnish – seen here in action in 2014 during the London round of the World Cup series – is not rostered by Kenny Pryde among the persons he spoke to while experimenting The Medal Factory.
Go back to that tally of medals and t-shirts won over the last 20 times. Where are the major women’s road hastens in that list? Where are the time trial World Championships won by maidens? Where are any of the ribbons triumphed in MTB, BMX,’ cross? Where are the Paralympians? All of these Pryde tells us in The Medal Factory have been forgot by British Cycling. But how well served are these restraints by The Medal Factory itself? Shanaze Reade isn’t interviewed. Sarah Storey isn’t interviewed. Rachel Atherton isn’t interviewed. Helen Wyman isn’t interviewed. You’ll struggle to find their achievements in BMX, the Paralympics, ridge biking and cyclo cross even acknowledged by Pryde. He’s terribly, very good at demonstrating the problem by being their own problems: the failures of the Manchester medal factory are decree gigantic in the very space Pryde tells its tale in The Medal Factory.
In Pryde’s audit of the cost of gold- and let’s remember, the cost of gold is part of the book’s full claim- does he take the time to actually look at the athletes as human beings and consider the toll all those bangles and baubles and jerseys have taken on “peoples lives”? Does he discuss Pendleton’s mental health issues and how British Cycling did or did not deal with them? Or how about Joanna Rowsell Shand? Or what about Wiggins? No, he does not. Because Pryde- despite his book’s sub-title- clearly isn’t actually interested in questioning the cost of success. He simply wants to retell time-worn narrations of honour. Narratives we’ve heard dozens of epoches before. And will doubtlessly hear dozens of durations again.
Meanwhile, the fib Varnish shelled the starting pistol on is still growing, with British Gymnastics the most recent boast mas to find itself having to face reality and answer questions about the true cost of gold. This is a story that can’t be easily rejected, despite the best efforts of people like Pryde.
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