the pain and the glory harper sport hardback. 223pp illus. £20

the pain and the glory

there are two discrete methods of getting to and from islay: aeroplane from glasgow airport and car ferry from kennacraig on the kintyre peninsula. the former is fine if you don't need to take the car with you and cost is less of a concern, but the ferry is the mode used by the majority of islay visitors. as with pretty much all the rest of the west coast of scotland, this service is operated by caledonian macbrayne ferries, effectively a monopoly owned by the scottish government.

islay has two ports, one in the north and one in the south and we also have a two ferry service in order to manage the car and passenger numbers as well as the considerable freight demands on behalf of the island's eight single malt whisky distilleries. rather obviously, there is a finite number of vehicle spaces on these ferries, and at regular times of the year, this is exceeded by the demand. from the point of view of the islanders, we ought to have priority when it comes to bookings, but in fact calmac use little in the way of discretion and take vehicle bookings pretty much on a first come-first served basis. to be honest, it would be hard to work in any other way.

the pain and the glory

as i have made mention on several occasions, islay exists very much at the behest of the atlantic weather fronts, a factor that often means ferries diverting to a port other than at the one they were timetabled to arrive or depart. add this to the booking debacle, and it often seems that calmac cannot do right for doing wrong. in short, they're an easy target.

pretty much like team sky.

despite having been classified as the world's number one team, winning the tour de france at the third attempt with brit bradley wiggins, placing chris froome in second then following this with the latter's victory in 2013, they are still the target for some discontent within the ranks of the cognoscenti. it's hard to figure out just why this is the case, apart from the well-known british habit of knocking its own whenever they manage to actually achieve whatever it is they set out to achieve. it is, it seems, the british way.

the pain and the glory

that said, team sky may well be complicit in the almost never ending subsequent public relations extravaganza that shows little sign of abating. chris froome participating in sumo wrestling while in japan to race, and all but setting the same rider up for victory in the 2014 tour after the route announcement was said to suit his particular racing proclivities. of course, the media must accept at least half the blame for positioning team sky as the thin blue line in the centre of the dartboard. in the course of reviewing many recently issued books, there was often so much in the way of team sky/bradley wiggins/chris froome adulation, that i was occasionally beginning to lose the will to live.

so, when along comes yet another book celebrating sky's victories and 2013 campaigns at tour and giro, i can't say heavy sighs did not ensue. to make matters worse, the jacket cover resembles nothing more nor less than that of a cycling monthly. though 'tis not written in stone, i prefer my book covers to state the title and author; the pain and the glory is subtitled the official team sky diary of the giro campaign and tour victory, then undersigned by introduction by sir dave brailsford & chris froome and interspersed between that and photography by scott mitchell, words by sarah edworthy is a sticker proclaiming exclusive team sky podcast app.

the pain and the glory

before i delve into the book's contents, i hope you'll bear with me while i discuss the latter ios/android app. the plan, as i understand it, is that said app is freely downloaded for the appropriate device and subsequently used to scan specified images in the book by scott mitchell. these promise to link to podcasts where scott talks about the circumstances surrounding the image in question. i consider myself reasonably it literate, so i downloaded as directed and looked forward to this innovative enhancement of my reading and viewing pleasure. however, either i am considerably less adept than i had thought, or this is one of the worst apps i have ever come across.

despite spending an hour and a half vainly trying to make head or tail of the instructions, i failed miserably to get anywhere at all. suffice it to say, the app has been deleted, never to darken my ipod again.

the pain and the glory

the book itself takes the format of a documentary, though one that is accessed by turning each page, rather than watching online or on tv. this is far more amenable than it sounds in bare pixels. sarah edworthy is a highly competent narrator, with a praisworthy relaxed style augmented by frequent quotes from the riders. the chapters are entirely chronological for both grand tours (stage one, stage two, stage three etc.) this is all very recent history, one that has been, to all intents and purposes, done to death by the cycling and mainstream media, so despite edworthy's best intentions, she's not telling us something we didn't already know. yes, she obviously had unrestricted access to riders and staff, but even with their insider knowledge, there are no hitherto unexpected revelations about either race.

the easy target accusation is certainly not lessened in any way, particularly regarding sir bradley's unexpectedly poor performance in the giro d'italia. while i recall the cycling press being less than complimentary regarding his poor abilities when it rains (underlined by his extremely early exit from this year's very wet world championships), sky not unexpectedly point no such fingers, placing the blame entirely on illness. don't get me wrong, that may well have been the case, but let's be honest, sky are hardly going to crap on their own doorstep.

the pain and the glory

in re-reading the above paragraphs, i feel i must apologise for their accusatory tone. in truth, i retain a certain pride that a british team has managed to win two successive tours de france, even if i still feel there's an unsubstantiated arrogance regarding their modus operandi. that is something that ought not to be used to judge this book; if i might return to my criticism of the cover, the first words atop the jacket are the official team sky diary. what follows over the subsequent 223 pages expressly fulfils every expectation, whatever that might be.

however, i have left the very best till last. probably the very feature for which the majority of fans will buy this book are the superb talents of embedded photographer scott mitchell. i must declare an interest because scott is a good friend of mine, but that has no real bearing on my appreciation of his imagery. there are some acutely observed moments throughout this book, very sympathetically displayed via the skills of designer martin topping. with no disrespect to sarah edworthy, there is no shame in purchasing this book and simply taking as long as you like to view the 159 colour and monochrome images.

the pain and the glory

a favourite has to be that on page 215 of a tv helicopter viewed overhead between the wheels atop the team car. exceptional.

each grand tour ends with a rather unnecessary (in my opinion) recap of each stage, including the first three finishers along with their respective times and a profile of the stage. it will keep the statisticians and obsessives happy, and in the process of creating a complete record not totally without merit. however, mitchell's photographs aside, i can't help thinking this is a classic case of over-egging the pudding.

friday 8 november 2013