Title: My Time
Author: Bradley Wiggins (with William Fotheringham, foreword by Robert Millar)
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press
Order: Random House
What it is: Volume three of the autobiographies of Bradley Wiggins
My Time - the third volume of Bradley Wiggins's autobiographies, following on from In Pursuit of Glory (2008, Orion Books) and On Tour (2010, Orion Books) - sees the side-burned one dump former ghost-writer Brendan Gallagher (Daily Telegraph) in favour of William Fotheringham (The Guardian) as he jumps from the publishing house of Hachette to Random House's Yellow Jersey imprint. These changes aside, not much else has changed on Planet Wiggins, with the book opening in territory all too familiar to those who've already read In Pursuit of Glory: Wiggo down in his cups, half-cut in a half-finished hotel and not sounding particularly happy about life in his current team:
"In the late evening of 17 October 2010 I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Milan Malpensa airport, all alone with the best part of two bottles of wine inside me. I had just climbed off in the Tour of Lombardy, a legendary one-day Classic and the last big race of the season [...] I had been sent to Italy in the hope of picking up a ProTour point or two and to put some structure into the end of my season. If it had been down to me I'd have stopped in September, but that would have made the whole winter's training harder. I'd had no option but to go on.
"The team had been booked into the Holiday Inn Express at Malpensa. There were a few of us, staff and riders, and they wanted to eat together. I didn't want to sit down and chew over the race. I told them I had found a flight that evening, got the bus to the airport, walked across to a half-finished hotel and checked in. I wanted to be alone. I was flying out of Milan the next day and here I was: absolutely wasted, on my own in this soulless airport hotel."
Readers of In Pursuit of Glory will recall all to well how Wiggins had drifted through a succession of road teams between 2001 and 2009, never seeming to find himself at home, always doing a midnight flit, or having one forced upon him. In 2001 it had been the Linda McCartney Pro Cycling team, which collapsed before Wiggins even got to race for them. Then came Française des Jeux which Wiggins described as starting bad and only getting worse as he "grew to despise the management and the way they treated me." Then came Crédit Agricole ("to whom I took an instant dislike") and Cofidis (which ended with him stuffing his team kit into an airport waste bin). That was followed by a year at High Road/Columbia ("no great dramas, just a few things that did not suit me contractually") and Garmin (which ended with lawyers sitting around a meeting room table trying to hammer out a divorce settlement). And then came the happy-ever-after marriage to bride number six. And the post-honeymoon blues in the lounge of an airport hotel on the outskirts of Milan.
It took a bit of marriage counselling to get the relationship back on track, but back on track it went and - at this stage - we all know how it's worked out for these two star-crossed lovers over the two years since. This, of course, is one of the problems with autobiographies: there's no suspense, you know how the story's going to work out. But while there may be no suspense, there is your standard narrative arc: conflict followed by complication and crisis and ending with resolution.
The conflict that opens My Time is both internal and external. Internally, it's that Wiggins initially wanted to get to the top without having to stand up and be the leader. Externally, it was coming from within the Sky team, who had run so fast to launch themselves in 2010 - after Wiggins had shown so good in Garmin's colours at the 2009 Tour - that they had forgot the key to their track successes: attention to detail.
Once Wiggins manned up and accepted the responsibility that comes with the hefty salary Sky were paying him - only after getting a rocket up his arse and being threatened with demotion - things get back on track as both he and the team start focussing more on the important stuff, like personnel, and less on the unimportant things, like a gosh-almighty-isn't-it-grand bus and a cock-and-bull zero tolerance mission statement. There are setbacks - Wiggins crashing out of the 2011 Tour de France and confusion over objectives at the Vuelta a España - but things begin to get better and better. Then come the successes of 2012: Wiggins winning in Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Then comes Tour 2012 and the chance to complete ahead of schedule Sky's mission to land a Briton on the top step of the Tour de France podium and bring him home safely again. That's when the complication and crisis kicks in. Or, to give it its proper name, Chris Froome. Once that's overcome - once the little Kenyan monkey's spanked and put back in his cage - we're into the grand finale, the feel good ending on the Champs Elysées and at the Olympic Games.
Focussing as it does on the Sky years, My Time is more along the lines of On Tour than In Pursuit of Glory, all the autobiographical heavy lifting having already been done, Wiggins serving up pretty immediate reactions to recent history. This is not without value - sometimes there is more truth in an immediate response than in one which has been finessed by having been thought over and over and over - but does comes with the caveat that it is subject to revision, once time and distance are put between events and some of the key protagonists.
Take for example the 2010 Tour de France. The story of this race was told in loving detail in On Tour, Wiggins displaying an amazing capacity for either self-delusion as to his prospects in the race once it got under way, or an admirable never-say-die spirit and tenacity. But just how true was On Tour? Take this comment from My Time, Wiggins talking about a pre-Tour training camp in the Alps where team-mate Michael Barry dropped him on the Col de la Madeleine:
"from there on in to the Tour it should have been apparent that I wasn't in the shape to get a podium finish. It was as simple as that."
Not that it was made that simple in On Tour. But by now that book has, of course, been deleted from memory, among other things the three-pages of praise for Lance Armstrong being out of step with the current version of reality (On Tour: "it has been an unexpected bonus to ride the Tour twice with him and, even on those two occasions in the Autumn of his career, I could sense what an incredible competitor and once-in-a-generation athlete he was and is." My Time: "Regardless of what I've said over the years I've always had my suspicions about him.") You will find no mention of On Tour in My Time. (Nor will you find an actual mention of In Pursuit of Glory, just an allusion: why give a rival publisher the publicity?)
The biggest bit of revision going on in My Time is childhood heroes. In Pursuit of Glory was the story of an Olympic athlete and the picture painted there was of a man driven by the Olympic ideal and Olympic heroes and heroines. The childhood heroes of My Time are not men who raced in circles around and around and around vélodromes once every four years: they're the stars of the Tour de France. Maybe when Wiggins retires and turns up in Dancing on Ice we'll be told that the heroes who drove his competitive instincts were Torvill and Dean. Truth is - too often but not always - a flexible construct when we're dealing with the phenomenon of instantly published athlete autobiographies.
Justifying the bullshit he spouted during the 2010 Tour - and, by extension, in On Tour - Wiggins says:
"I had no option but to keep playing the game, keep telling people what they wanted to hear even though I knew it wasn't going to happen."
This, for me, is one of the problems with Bradley Wiggins, that he says what he thinks people want to hear. And - somewhat perversely - why I appreciate his mid-Tour tantrum at the Twitter trolls he felt had been harassing him. I appreciate it for the glimpse it afforded of the real Bradley Wiggins. But I don't applaud it. Unlike - apparently - the inhabitants of the Tour's salle de presse who greeted this outburst with a round of applause, reminiscent of the glory years of Lance Armstrong (a comparison likely to fuel another tantrum).
In My Time we get some insight into the genesis of that tantrum:
"I had a massive downer after Romandie. I felt like packing it all in, simply because I looked at Twitter for the first time in a long while. While social media is a great way to keep in touch on the net, it had a downside that most people in the public eye experience: users can say pretty much whatever they like about you under the cover of a pseudonym. They can target you, but you don't know who they are. It was about this time that a group of people 'out there' began making insinuations about drugs. What was being said made me begin to think, 'What I'm doing at the moment, I'm quite dominant here; I'm winning bunch sprints and it does look a bit suspicious, I guess.' I started thinking that I didn't want to win the Dauphiné, because if I did win they would say that I was doping for sure. Then I began thinking: imagine if I win the Tour - what will they come up with then? I started saying to Cath, 'Forget this, I can't be bothered. I don't want to win the Tour because I can see what's coming.'"
And so Wiggins stewed over the comparisons being made between Team Sky and the US Postal Services teams of Lance Armstrong, the way in which they only came out to play a couple of times before the Tour and the way in which they sat at the front all day and drove the pace, like Duracell bunnies on Prozac, never tiring, never showing the strain. And Wiggins formulated a response. And the response Wiggins came up with was Biblical in its nature - an eye for an eye, insult met with insult:
"I say they're just fucking wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that. It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can't ever imagine applying themselves to doing anything in their lives. It's easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of shit rather than get off their arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that's ultimately it. Cunts."
Okay, maybe I didn't mean Biblical, maybe I meant infantile.
While the salle de presse may have applauded, Wiggins' outburst hadn't actually solved the problem, silenced the questioning. That took the person ghosting his Guardian Tour diaries, who offered a more eloquent defence. This, of course, is one of the problems with Wiggins' comments on doping: too many have of them have been delivered on his behalf by ghost-writers, men like Brendan Gallagher and William Fotheringham who daily report on this sport and can find the words that Wiggins himself seems so unable to find when faced with a microphone.
What can Wiggins say? At this stage it's hard to imagine, the man has contradicted himself - played the game - far too often for anything he says to be believed. Others might want to blame dopers who have used the same defences Wiggins employs, accuse them of creating the circumstances in which fans question what Wiggins says. Me, I blame the man himself: he has played the game too well, too often said what he thinks people want to hear. How are we to know when he is not just mouthing the phrases people want to hear?
According to My Time the secret of Sky and Wiggins' success is neither pill nor potion, but the realisation that training is more important than racing (something the Wiggins who wrote In Pursuit of Glory disagreed with, he then saying "You can never quite replicate the competitiveness of a Tour in training."). Sequestering themselves in Tenerife and putting in harder days training than they would have achieved had they raced is, for Team Sky, this year's version of cadence or extract of cherry oil or iPod pillows.
Reading My Time you might form the opinion that this is something no one had realised before Sky came along, that heretofore Tour champions and would-be champions have been spending the months before the big buckle racing hard when they could have been training harder. As with many of the 'discoveries' that get credited to Sky, this is bunkum. It is the strategy that has been employed by many, including - whisper it quietly - Lance Armstrong. Even before the recent past you can find riders who sequestered themselves for months on end, avoiding races and training training training to win the Tour. According to some cycling historians this is exactly how Ottavio Bottecchia won the 1924 race.
What else do we learn reading My Time? We learn that criticisms Victoria Pendleton made in Between the Lines about Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton's lack of emotional intelligence are not without foundation. We learn that Wiggins thinks that he is a better cycling historian than Chris Froome who "can seem quite naïve at times, or less knowledgeable about the history and culture of the sport." And we learn that there is an odd militaristic streak in Wiggins. When Wiggins talks of the 2011 World Championship road race he describes the team spirit in these terms:
"The attitude in that team was the same as if we had been going into war. We weren't going to leave anyone out there on the battlefield."
On being beaten in the road race in the Olympics, Wiggins says this of the British team as they sat in their tent at the end of the race:
"No one said a word. It was as if we'd all lost the race, all five of us, or as if we'd lost a man during war."
As an outsider looking in, especially from a nominally neutral nation like Ireland, the militarism that has mushroomed in Britain since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is somewhat disquieting. Militarism has always been a part of British culture - a sure-fire way to win the Booker prize is to write a half-decent literary novel set in one of the World Wars, preferably the first - but over the last decade, with armed forces in the field, it has become all pervasive. Dulce et decorum est, pro patri mori has once again become the prevailing attitude.
In My Time you'll find chapters titled 'Brothers in Arms,' 'The Wingmen', 'In the Firing Line,' and 'Under Attack' and, charitably, you could credit these to Wiggins' ghost, Fotheringham, grant them ironic intent, a fair nod at cycling's other borrowings from military culture. But it is Wiggins who again and again comes back to the strong military metaphor. Here he is in the Tour, on La Toussire, with confusion reigning between himself and Frome:
"It was a little bit like having a battle plan going into war, all being in a trench together, firing your guns at the enemy, and then one of your troops going off and doing his own thing somewhere else in another trench, completely unprompted, unplanned, and contrary to your original plan. [...] The problem was that, from that moment on, through the rest of the Tour, I didn't quite know what to expect when Chris got into the heat of battle."
Maybe it is this militaristic streak that is really at the heart of Lance-Corporal Wiggins' difficulty with the legitimate questions asked of a Tour de France winner about doping: you should never, ever, question the courage and honour of a soldier in the field serving his country. It's simply not the done thing. Just remember this though: the first casualty of war is truth and many of the truths of My Time will, no doubt, be revised when Wiggins comes to write volume four of his autobiographies.
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Note re applause in press room: I have been told, by someone who was there, that contrary to the impression given in My Time, fewer than a dozen reporters, out of a corps of four hundred, clapped briefly. They were not UK journalists. As I say above, truth is flexible.