easy rider: my life on a bike. rob hayles with lionel birnie bantam press hardback 276pp illus. £16.99

easy rider rob hayles

in 1965, two spanish pop groups - los sonor and the runaways - combined to form the madrid based band los bravos, ironically with a lead singer named mike kogel, but also known as mike kennedy, who hailed from germany. oftened compared to the style of gene pitney, his was the voice heard on their 1966 uk release entitled black is black, a record that rose to number two in the charts. it also reached number four in the usa's billboard charts, the first spanish group to have done so, in the process also becoming the first spanish band to sell in excess of a million records.

while several of you might actually remember this pop record and perhaps even own a copy somewhere in the depths of the attic, the title is not factually correct. though i am currently dressed in black jersey and black trousers (how very designery of me), they are quite distinctly not the same shade of black. however, just to be even more complex about the relative simplicity of the word's darkest colour, it gets worse.

when preparing artwork for print, the originator has the option of simply choosing the swatch of black on the little flyout panel to the right of the screen, or specifying rich black. i confess that, in my early days of wrestling with pre-press, the distinction was lost on me until i placed artwork created in one package as a graphic in another. when printed, there was a distinct lack of depth to the former. as i have bored everyone to death with on at least one previous occasion, printed colour consists of cyan, magenta, yellow and black. rich black consists of black (rather obviously) and an even percentage of each of the other three, principally based on the ink limit of the press on which the item is to be printed.

i know that very few of you are even remotely interested in the foregoing, impinging not as it does, on your daily lives. however, it seems an apt metaphor for the autobiography of rob hayles with which this review is concerned.

essentially the job of racing cyclist is little different to that of the rest of us working for a living. there are still identifiable tasks to be (successfully) completed, and though training may form a greater proportion of the cyclist's career, the big difference is in the office decor. rob hayles is an individual who can be respectfully described as a journeyman rider, one who inhabited the upper reaches of the british track regime as it morphed from a group of also-rans to the world domination it experiences today.

in those early days of his track career, he formed an important fourth of the team pursuit, even if the end result didn't always fight it out for even a bronze medal. he also participated frequently in the individual pursuit, the points race and most notably (with mark cavendish, who provides the book's foreword) in the madison. but, and i think it likely that hayles would be the first to admit it, he was no bradley wiggins or chris hoy.

however, to be quite blunt, very few track riders can be compared to either of these multi-gold medal winners, but in order for the gb programme to succeed, it was obviously necessary to have riders who were particularly competent in the required discipline(s), but did not necessarily excel in the manner of wiggins, hoy or pendleton. so it is of great tribute to rob hayles and lionel birnie that the years of enduring the grunt work and limited international success are, in fact, not only readable, but enticingly so.

though such preparation is and was never an end in itself, for all was geared towards ultimate olympic and world championship success, the narrative does not suffer from the inevitable dips and rises that such a career will undoubtedly render. if i may return briefly to my black is black introduction, this early section of the book is standard black.

the book's complexion changes to rich black with the last sentences of chapter eight. "So I decided I would give it everything on the road for two years, but if I didn't get anywhere, I would still have time to adjust to the track again in time for the 2004 Olympics.
"But I was about to find out how deep the waters of professional road racing truly were."

chapter nine is entitled Millar Time and unsurprisingly concerns british rider, david millar, then a talented teenage rider who had been signed by french team cofidis, a situation that proved pivotal in the career of mr hayles. "Dave had mentioned once or twice that there might be an opening for me at Cofidis." it seems that this was indeed the case, and rob hayles entered the world of world tour professional cycling with this first tier french team.

perhaps due to pat mcquaid's desire to equate professional cycle racing with that of formula one motor racing, and more recently with all the attention that has been paid to the marginal gains of team sky, we all likely assume that the atmosphere inhaled by riders at this level will be as close to perfect as it is possible to get. discussions of substantial annual budgets must surely be only towards the benefit of those riding in the sponsor's colours. that, seemingly, is not necessarily the case.

having apparently been signed by cofidis in the first year of the 21st century without them directly informing him of this milestone in his career. (Philippe Gaumont) seemed to know I was joining Cofidis. 'Ah, oui, oui. You join us next season? When we have the first training camp, we'll have a party.'" hayles then discovered that the machine was not one that was oiled on a regular basis. "I'm not sure what I was expecting...but I had assumed the team would feel a lot more professional and well-drilled than it was. Everything was a bit haphazard. Cofidis was one of the biggest and best-funded teams in world cycling, with a budget that ran to about six million euros, but it seemed to be run like an amateur squad."

hayles goes on to detail the rather ramshackle nature of being a top line pro on the continent, with a constantly changing race programme that seemed based purely on having sufficient riders to make up the required numbers for an event, than any structured attempt to bring out the best in his abilities. this part of his career lasted three years, ending almost as unremarked as it had begun. it is perhaps a telling feature of the book that there are very few images of hayles in his cofidis kit.

rob hayles is a very self-effacing individual, less concerned it seems with the minutiae of the sport "I was on my favoured gear (92.6 inches for those of you interested in that kind of thing)." than with the bigger and ultimately greater picture. his failing of the uci's dubiously conceived haematocrit test in 2008 is dealt with by way of unfailing honesty and not just a little exasperation, particularly when subsequent tests showed no evidence of epo use. undoubtedly however, folks remember the test failure rather than any following exoneration.

if i might just for a moment clothe myself in the mantle of pedant, yet again words that ought to utilise the letter 's' seem to have suffered from the american 'z'. and in the narrative relating to his success in the 2008 british road race championship, a listing of "the toughest and classiest riders" contains all the notables expected, yet fails to mention scot brian smith, who won the title twice in his career.

i think it fair to state that if rob hayles didn't exist, we'd need to invent him. his contribution to so many aspects of british cycling success while rarely tasting much of it himself, is far larger than you'd think. i gain the impression that mark cavendish would not be quite the accomplished rider he is today were it not for the support and ingenue of rob hayles. as cavendish says in his foreword "From the day I first walked into Manchester velodrome to train with the British Cycling Aacademy squad, Rob was there. He was one of the people that British Cycling grew up around."

in aristic circles, the word chiarascuro is often bandied about, a word that means light and shade, and a comparable literary effect that has been achieved by hayles and birnie in easy rider. the chapters involving david millar and the years at cofidis are not only dark in the sense of hayles description of the goings-on in the professional metier, but they're the guitar solo that lifts the whole book. and a guitar solo only works if it contrasts that which has preceded it and that which follows.

an excellent book, written in a compelling manner and a fitting tribute to one of the all but unsung heroes of british cycling. and by that i do not singularly refer to the corporate bods at manchester but in a more empirical sense.

this is very much the light to charly wegelius' shade; one book complements the other. i figure you ought to own both.

friday 21st june 2013