21 days to glory. the official team sky book of the tour de france. sarah edworthy and scott mitchell. harper sport hardback. 191pp illus. £25

21 days to glory

though i'm probably a bit late to the party, the last time i was in waterstone's in glasgow's sauchiehall street, i was searching (almost in vain as it turns out) for an historical book relating to the second world war. it is not a particular interest of mine; i rarely read or watch anything regarding conflict because there are far more pleasant things in the world with which to entertain oneself, but sometimes you just have to in order to better understand the follies of our forebears. though i did eventually find sort of what i was searching for, in the process of doing so i came across an entire and remarkably substantial section of the shop concerning itself with graphic novels.

though such animals have crossed the path of my radar on previous occasions, these have been mercifully brief, for i find a two page spread in such a volume to be similar to looking at someone's facebook page. i have not an earthly of what it is i'm expected to view. having grown up reading first playhour followed by weekly doses of the beano and the dandy, my reaction to a slew of graphic novels was something of a surprise, for i thought they would be more pleasing and comprehensibe to the eye. but coincidentally, remembering my initial reason for being on the second floor of waterstone's in the first place, they did remind me of commando comics, visual literature concerning itself with both world wars.

21 days copyright scott mitchell

and i never much cared for those.

you'd think. therefore, that before now, someone would have portrayed our favourite grand tour in a similar manner. can you just imagine the implied conversations between brad and cav; think of the facial expressions. so far as i know, that hasn't happened, but the tour de france is most definitely an event that begs to be depicted predominantly by way of imagery, accompanied by few or no words at all. i think it possible that the publication that comes closest to fulfilling this notion is 21 days to glory featuring the least number of words i have yet come across describing team sky's domination of the 2012 race. those words are supplied by journalist and author, sarah edworthy while the imagery comes from the lens of renowned team sky photographer, scott mitchell.

21 days copyright scott mitchell

if there's a slight creepiness about the whole affair, it's the apparent necessity to presage the title with the official team sky book of the 2012 tour de france. isn't that the sort of legend you'd expect on a britney spears annual or peter andre biography? does it imply that here exists an unofficial version? this oddness is, to my mind, compounded by the insistence within that 'team sky asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work'. but i thought that was the preserve of both edworthy and mitchell?


21 days copyright scott mitchell

however, the book has two major saving graces: edworthy's narrative and scott mitchell's superb photography. should you require reinforcement of the latter assertion, and i appreciate that the placement may not be that of mitchell himself, the image occupying the spread inside the front cover is of the blue line in the centre of a team sky jaguar, while that inside the rear cover describes a similar panel, but this time in yellow.

not unnaturally, the foreword to this team sky production is from the man at the top, dave brailsford, offering a precis of how and why this three year old team managed to fulfil its destiny two years ahead of brailsford's seemingly far-fetched launch prognostications. the remaining chapters are entitled in my most hated manner; the stages as they unfolded over the 21 days. in a bizarre way, however, it pretty much seems to work. sarah edworthy's text is remarkably fresh and unaffected. no bias is exhibited towards any particular rider or member of staff, up to and including bradley himself. by its nature, it has a tendency to generalise slightly, but in my opinion, this is one of its great strengths.

21 days copyright scott mitchell

'It was always going to be a stressful day. First-week nerves were compounded by the prospect of a tough stage, the first in France, which started across the border in Orchies. It is unusual to feature a stage with five short, steep climbs - which were categorised for the mountains jersey competition - early in the first week and this one, close to the coast, came with the threat of winds and a twisty last 70 kilometres.'

it is particularly notable that edworthy exhibits no tendency to patronise the reader, nor to talk in riddles that might confuse a tour de france newbie. quite a skill in itself. each assertion or strategy is underlined with comments from the riders concerned, staff, brailsford, directeurs sportifs or mechanics, offering a far more concerted impression of a team pulling in one direction for three weeks. i mean not to infer that this was ever in doubt, but many of the alternatives on the bookshelf seem concentrated more on the yellow jersey, relegating others to the position of support band. i offer as an example, that this is the only tour book i have read that pays specific attention and tribute to the team's own chef, soren kristiansen.

21 days copyright scott mitchell

concerning the duopoly of reaching for yellow at the expense of green, mark cavendish adds his own views. 'I usually win an average of five stages on a Tour de France, but I had to take a back seat,' a rueful Cavendish said later. 'The yellow jersey is the most iconic symbol in sport. That was the team's goal, and it had to take precedence.'

but to return to my opening thoughts regarding the possibility of a tour described purely by way of imagery, surely the principal, if not sole reason for acquiring this £25 book is the exquisite imagery of scott mitchell. i doubt i'm breaking too much of a confidence if i let slip that scott's photography at both the tour and the giro formed a substantial part of the traffic on team sky's website. i will readily admit to personal interest here, for i have known scott for a number of years, throughout which he has stoically maintained that he is not a cycling photographer, but a photographer who takes photographs of cycling.

21 days copyright scott mitchell

this he does with a perspective that seems not inform many of the hundreds of other clicking shutters across those 21 days in july. i have revised this book more than once by attempting to understand the race purely with reference to mitchell's photography, a pleasurable labour that has paid dividends. i think it likely that the dyed-in-the-wool tour photographer understands the race perhaps just a bit too well, pre-planning those iconic but ultimately vacuous shots of the peloton passing fields of sunflowers. scott mitchell avoids cliche entirely appearing to be using his lens to make sense of that happening all around him, and in so doing, offering the great unwashed a tour de france rarely, if ever, seen before.

21 days copyright scott mitchell

his friendship with bradley has taken him to the tour once before, the result of which was the collaboratve publication on tour. i think it likely that many would have given their sd cards to be right where scott was when a british team won the tour with british riders in first and second places. it is nigh on impossible to remain separated from published works on the tour if you inhabit the cycling media in even the minimal fashion of thewashingmachinepost, and i happily admit that i have never experienced the race in the manner portrayed by mitchell. at the risk of appearing totally sycophantic, i think it possible this particular volume could have been published bereft of of sarah edworthy's narrative (no disrespect intended) and been every bit as successful.

however, just when you thought it was safe to go back to the service course, sky undermine the immense gestalt of the first 145 pages, by augmenting them with a stage by stage account of how the west was won. totally unnecessary other than as an excuse to publish more scott mitchell images. some folks just don't know when to stop. with that in mind, i think it only right and proper that, in my opinion, 21 days can be viewed as a qualified success, a book more than worth its price of admission.

all photos copyright scott mitchell. reproduced with permission.

thursday 22nd november 2012


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