adobe photoshop is a fabulous piece of software which has developed from its original release as barney scan into a stupendously complex programme that can perfrom astonishing digital manipulations, ranging from simple lightening of an image to total scene reconstruction or imagineering as i have heard it said. for though photoshop has lifted itself from a simple method of improving a scanned image, the intermediate years before digital photography happened along, allowed its development as an alternative to real-world painting. this latter feature is one that was specifically targeted in a recent release, allowing those with artistic talent to dispense with palettes, brushes, linseed oil and an endless supply of rags. and perhaps most importantly of all, tidying up afterwards.
of course, the digital realm is anathema to many a fine artist; those who prefer to remain true to their tubes of watercolour or oils, retaining their faith in stretched watercolour paper or primed canvas. and i'd be the last to criticise for them for that. however, the repetitive mention of the word digital gives credence to the basis on which photoshop works. though you and i may perceive the background to these words as a familiar shade of yellow, photoshop thinks of it as 255,204,102 in rgb, 0,21,70,0 in cmyk or, to be more computer like, ffcc66.
rgb and cmyk are worlds i frequently inhabit, and i've no doubt several more of you do likewise, but the last six digit code (hexadecimal to be technically precise) would mean nothing to me at all. basically speaking, photoshop does not actually deal in colours at all, but numerical representations that are ultimately reduced to a series of ones and zeros.
which is sort of how team sky have rewritten the approach to cycle racing.
team director, dave brailsford has many years of experience in the realm of track cycling, having masterminded the resurgence of team gb (with the aid of a healthy dose of lottery funding) into a dominant world force on the track. as we have been constantly told over the years, and prior to his 'we'll win the tour in five years' statement, is a more easily quantifiable set of numbers. it is a relatively easy task to equate power output with winning times; in order to go this quick, it is necessary to generate this particular power output.
road racing, we are informed, is less susceptible to such numerical dictates, for while the air resistance in the velodrome remains relatively steady, and in many disciplines the riders surrounding you are all intent on the same outcome. theoretically, your competitors are also racing, but not in close proximity. a road race, such as the tour de france sets off with almost 200 riders densely packed in a peloton, and it takes only a moment's inattention by one of them to bring the house of cards to the ground in seconds. that's what happened to bradley wiggins in 2011 '...and then, before I know it I'm on the deck, the team doctor, Richard Freeman, is coming over to me, I'm clutching my shoulder; I can feel it isn't right. I can't get off the floor for love nor money without it being agony. It's game over.
so for all the careful preparation and analysis of the numbers, coupled with brailsford's infamous 'marginal gains', it only takes an unfortunate deviation from the norm to have a cunning plan fail entirely.
bradley wiggins entered the 2012 tour de france as the favourite, and perhaps similarly to the armstrong years, it was simply a case of waiting until he took hold of the yellow jersey before we all started looking to see who was going to take second. i know i'm not alone in counting this past year's tour to be one of the more tedious to watch, and bradley's my time elucidates, at often great length, just why that was the case. seemingly gone are the days when teams entered the tour with ambition allied to what rapha's simon mottram refers to as panache. deeds of derring-do, garnished with a soupcon of swashbuckling opportunity.
'It was not the most attractive way to ride a race, it was not riding with panache...'that's evidently not the way team sky work.
in these days of multi-million pound sponsorships, the end result takes on greater importance, if that's at all possible. there is surely now need to justify that expenditure by way of victories, preferably taking the overall rather than simply stages. therefore it seems not unnatural that there exists a cunning plan, one that is necessarily adhered to on a daily basis. the downside to this approach, and i will readily admit that it is purely superficial in nature, is that it rarely makes for ennervating reading, and i'm afraid to say that bradley's book inhabits that space.
having previously covered much of his career via 2008's 'in pursuit of glory' wiggins has capitalised on his victorious run of race wins in 2012 as sky's team leader: paris-nice, tour of romandie, criterium de dauphine and the tour de france, crowned by an excellent gold medal in the london olympics' individual time trial. if anyone deserves the plaudits that have been almost ceaselessly heading in his direction, surely it is bradley wiggins. and given that many professional cyclists (unless your surname is voigt) have a relatively short career, any opportunity to exploit such an impressive palmares surely cannot be viewed as other than one of the perks of the trade?
however, in a similar manner that plagued nicholas roche's autobiography, it may be fascinating to be a part of these record breaking exploits, but that doesn't necessarily make for rivetting reading. william fotheringham is an accomplished writer, no matter his subject, and his skills are evident here; but to quote a well worn saying: 'you cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear'.
in the book's opening chapters, where brad realises that he may have been slightly derelict in his duties as a team leader, he resolves to rethink his personal strategy on realising his job may depend upon it. the naysayers had been quick to point out that his 23rd place in the 2010 tour de france, over 38 minutes behind contador, might point to his signing at substantial salary being something of a glaring error by brailsford. 'because it was his first season as a team boss on a professional road-racing team and questions were being asked.'
it becomes apparent fairly early on in the book that team sky's domination of at least the latter two weeks of the 2012 tour was down to a substantial change in the way they trained for events. some of this at least, seems to have been the result of adding tim kerrison to the staff. ...'he knew relatively little about cycling, having only just begun to explore the sport, but he had revolutionised training in Australian swimming.' it seems that kerrison was prone to asking what a dyed-in-the-wool cycling coach would regard as stupid questions. why did professional cyclists stop training in october, then start on january 1st? why did cyclists not warm down after a race, considering they warmed up prior to it taking place? the standard replies would normally be 'because they do, and because they don't'.
it seems likely that this might conceivably be where the numbers started to take over. 'The last stint we did was twenty-five minutes, starting at 1,500m altitude and going to 2,200. We would ride one minute at 55 watts, basically prologue power, which you can sustain fro a few minutes, then four minutes at threshold torque - 50rpm at threshold, maybe 400-440 watts depending on the altitude, which is bloddy hard to do because riding in the big ring, say a 53x16 gear...' a narrative such as this might be perfectly acceptable in a volume concerned with the invention of the atom bomb, or a discussion on einstein's theory of relativity, but i fear there is just a tad too much of this throughout the book's 300+ pages.
witness, for example, bradley's description of the 2012 tour's final time-trial. 'The power I've chosen is over 450 watts, so on the flat sections, I'm looking at holding 450-460 watts and whenever the road ramps up slightly I'm taking it up to about 470, 480, 490, but again trying not to go over 500 watts, and likewise then, when it was slightly downhill, I'm coming back down to 430.' rarely is the time-trial the most exciting of stages in any tour, but for me, bradley has just managed to remove any remaining vestige of interest, master of the art though he undoubtedly is.
wiggins, and likely many of his team-mates and peers live in a bubble, isolated from what you and i would consider 'reality'. this surely forces them to adopt a slightly distorted vision and sense of perspective. having conceded at kerrison's behest, that it might make a tad more sense if the riders in the frame for tour selection spent as much time as possible training and racing together, that they might better understand each others tics, foibles and strengths, this led to several team visits en masse to locations such as tenerife, where the equations between altitude, power and gradient could be better explored in group isolation.
training is rarely meant to be fun, so the revelation that 'There's no sitting on the Internet and we haven't got Sky television in the room, so you find yourself doing the most basic things: reading a book or watching DVDs. We tend to watch a lot of films... You're living like a monk.' with all due respect to brad's sense of austerity, i can think of few monastic orders that allow for watching of dvds and films.
i feel almost trite in relating the less than enervating story to the front and back covers. a moody photograph of the esteemed author glaring at his intended readership has been done perhaps once too often, but the photograph on the back depicting a yellow jerseyed wiggins leaning against a yellow pinarello with a thoroughly disinterested and vacant look upon his face could surely have been bettered? the book's illustrations are contained within three bound sections, the middle featuring photography from the excellent scott mitchell. in the light of his daily postings on the team sky webiste throughout the tour, i find it hard to believe that yellow jersey press could not have found something far more appropriate and inviting with which to decorate the slip cover.
too often is a point laboured to death, such as wiggins' apparent concern over chris froome's tendency to leave him behind on a couple of climbs (panache, but not adhering to the cunning plan). this concern takes up several pages, effectively saying the same thing in a variety of similar ways in a chapter entitled under attack.
i am highly conscious that the preceding diatribe has been less than favourable towards my time, which does not, in fact condemn it as a bad book, just mediocre. it is perhaps similar to expecting comedians to be perennially funny, even when met in the supermarket or in the queue at costa coffee. the very fact that wiggins became the first british rider to ever win the tour de france, followed only a matter of days later by a gold medal in the olympic time-trial leaves no doubt at all that, on the bike, he is genuinely world class. to expect matching expertise in the world of narrative, even with admirable assistance from mr fotheringham might just be placing too heavy a burden on his shoulders.
after having read and reviewed both john deering's tour de force and daniel friebe's allez wiggo, i rather expected bradley's own story in his own words to be the definitive account. in the sense that no-one was closer to the action than the man himself, it cannot be other than definitive, but enervating, exciting and rivetting it most certainly isn't. sadly, i find it a tad iniquitous that a book about systematic drug-taking in the sport (tyler's secret race) ends up being considerably more gripping than one about a series of record-breaking victories by a british rider on a british team.
sunday 18th november 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................