Title: The Inside Track
Authors: Laura Trott and Jason Kenny (with Tom Fordyce)
Publisher: Michael O'Mara Books
Order: Michael O'Mara Books
What it is: The joint autobiography of Great Britain's Olympic golden couple
Strengths: The names on the cover
Weaknesses: It's oh so safe
Written by the BBC's Tom Fordyce (the ghost in the machine of Geraint Thomas's chamoir) The Inside Track is the first of the post-Rio contributions to the British-Cycling-And-My-Part-In-Its-Rise-And-Rise-And-Rise genre. Like those Leylandii thingeys nice people are forever complaining about this is a genre that just grows and grows and grows, stealing everyone else's moment in the sun, with the next likely addition set to be Lizzie Deignan's now delayed chamoir.
This one comes from British cycling's golden couple, Laura and Jason Kenny. Or, as they appear here (for reasons we'll return to later), Laura Trott and Jason Kenny. And yes, it is a joint autobiography, a real joint affair: the two British Olympic stars don't just get dedicated chapters to themselves but each is also allowed to butt in when the other one is talking.
JASON: I am a sprinter. I am waiting for the final of the Olympic keirin, and I am waiting for history.
LAURA: I'm happy, but I can't relax.
I am Feargal's wasted life. His mother warned him it would end like this, writing bad reviews of worse books. But did he listen?
I have to say that, despite all my cynicism about such things, I think I could actually grow to quite like the idea of a golden couple, and the idea of Trott and Kenny as a golden couple. Given enough time. And psychiatric support. You can imagine a golden couple at home of a morning drinking Nescafé Gold Blend and eating toast with Golden Syrup drizzled all over it. You'd know what their favourite Spandau Ballet song is, you'd know which of the Star Wars robots - soz, droids - they prefer and you'd be pretty sure what James Bond film they love the most (though with this pair you just can't be sure they aren't bland enough to actually like Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan). You can imagine Trott and Kenny in one of their multiple houses going all in on that dictator chic that's going to be so popular over the next four years (maybe even eight), having golden furniture coverings and golden curtains, golden carpets and golden wall coverings. You can picture them having golden light switches and you can picture them having golden taps and you can picture them having golden showers. Everything you can picture is golden. Especially their coupledom. They're as lovely and as cuddly and as cutesy wootsy as Britain's previous golden couples. Tim and Dawn. Gavin and Stacey. Curly and Raquel. Newly minted national treasures, that's what they are.
I am Feargal's true romantic and I can tell you his real idea of a golden couple is Tom and Viv, Ted and Sylvia or Sid and Nancy.
But here's a question for you: can you honestly remember any of their medal-winning rides, the feats of athletic endeavour that have earned them their golden status and made them newly minted national treasures? Can you honestly remember any of Laura Trott's four Olympic gold medal rides? If it wasn't for controversy, would you remember any of Jason Kenny's six Olympic gold medal rides?
You can remember the number of medals they have because you know that with her four gold medals and his six gold medals that makes them the most successful golden couple in the whole history of the Olympic Games. And even though Norwegian and Belarusian biathletes Ole Einar Bjørndalen and Darya Domracheva have 11 gold medals between them Trott and Kenny are still the most successful golden couple in the whole history of the Olympic Games because the story is better that way and that's what matters with this pair. But, seriously, how many of those ten Olympic-winning rides can you recall?
You can remember the keirin in Rio, where he was almost eliminated for trying to get a jump on the derny but was saved by video evidence produced by British Cycling. And you can remember his team sprint in London, where in the qualifiers Philip Hindes had tried to topple Tom Dailey from the throne of Britain's favourite diver. You can remember her ... hang on a minute, that's not right, is it? Philip Hindes diving? Did that really happen? Let's check to see what Kenny has to say:
"Beep. Beep. Beep. Phil goes, those huge thighs contracting and pushing, and here he goes, except why is he all over the track, and why are we coming past him before we've even hit the first turn, and now he's down, he's down, he's down ... Panic in the crowd. Pandemonium in the track centre. Chris and I throw our left arms in the air. Restart! Restart! For we knew the rules, vague though they were: if you suffered a mishap in the first half-lap you were entitled to start again. Not if you deliberately pulled your foot from its pedal, but if you fell. And Phil fell, and he had always looked like he was going to fall. A lot of conspiracy theories flew around at that time. We knew that Phil instinctively rode his bike like that, and we knew that risk was worth taking."
I am Feargal's ability to use Google. The UCI's "vague" rules have since been amended to include the word legitimate before fall when defining the sort of mishap that merits a do-over (punctures and mechanicals being the other two).
In fairness to Trott and Kenny here, at least they addressed the issue of Hindes's dive - and the man admitted to the BBC's Jill Douglas that it was a dive, that's not a conspiracy theory. But consider the issue of Shane Sutton's sudden departure from British Cycling in the run up to Rio over the allegations Jess Varnish and others made against him. No mention of that here. Maybe it didn't happen and you just imagined it. Or what about Lizzie Armitstead and the cloud of suspicion she cast over the whole of the British Cycling Olympic squad with the leaked news of her successful secret CAS appeal against a third missed test? There's no mention of that either. Maybe it too was just a nasty little conspiracy theory? Or the Fancy Bears leak of TUE details? Divil the bit of a mention of it. Maybe the pair were too busy with their wedding to notice it going on?
Think of any other controversy in British Cycling in recent years and it's odds on that you'll find no mention of it within the covers of The Inside Track. The most controversial thing you get here is being told that Victoria Pendleton wasn't best pleased with the idea of Trott and Kenny dating. But even that's watered down by Trott telling us just how much of an inspiration Pendleton was. As was that other bad girl of British Cycling, Nicole Cooke.
I am Feargal's sense of pity for Sally Jenkins.
So if you're thinking of turning to The Inside Track in order to get, well, the inside track on the goings on in the British camp before and during Rio, think again. Because The Inside Track is not that sort of book. Because in British Cycling Asimov's three laws of robotics have been updated with a fourth rule: don't rock the boat, baby. Being so well programmed in this regard the couple formerly known as Kenrott - Kenny, Trott, do the rest yourself - shall henceforth be known as the Kenbots.
* * * * *
Fifteen years ago or so - this would be back when Kenbot Two was about 13 and Kenbot One was about nine - the French writer Robert Redeker compared modern cyclists to Lara Croft and Robocop, "someone no fan can relate to or identify with." He was talking about road racing at the time and while what he said holds true for some in today's professional peloton there's a lot of others out there to disprove the theory. But switch the comment to the track. In the decade and a half since Redeker made his comment track riders have come to look even more like characters in a video game, PlayStation bots dancing across our screens, the human element hidden behind technology (to such an extent that even the UCI is waking up to the problem, banning riders from wearing "tinted visor or glasses that would prevent them from being clearly identified while seated in the waiting area" during televised competitions: "Riders shall only put on their tinted visor or glasses when heading on to the track," the rules now read.)
None of this is helped by the media referring to British Cycling's Manchester base as the medal factory, an assembly line manned by home-made (or, occasionally, imported) robots churning out Olympic bangles and baubles. The riders as machines, dehumanised even by their cheerleaders. Add in a lack of access to those riders for the cycling media and you do get what Redeker was talking about, riders you can't relate to. Though I'm not sure I'd go so far as comparing the Kenbots to Lara Croft and Robocop. I struggle not to think of them as a British take on Barbie and Ken: Sindy and Action Man. Though even that's probably going a bit too far in terms of excitement.
This inability to relate to them is something Fordyce, the Kenbots' ghost here, goes at heavily in The Inside Track, with the big takeaway from the book meant to be just how normal the pair are off the bike.
Here's him, on the arguments they have:
"And it's all fine. These are normal arguments, between a couple who outside of those ten Olympic golds, are a normal boy and a normal girl. It doesn't mean our relationship doesn't work or that we shouldn't be together. We have stood strong through far worse, and we will stand strong into the future. They are the usual little tiffs that every couple has, and at their core is the deep affection that binds us together. We know we each have flaws and we accept them in the other person. We don't pretend to be perfect. We don't pretend to be extraordinary."
Here's her, on him:
"Jason is good at lots of things. He taught himself to play guitar. He cooks. He does a pie that could win prizes. He washes up. He's good with DIY around the house, if you ignore the fact that he isn't the best at hammering nails into awkward spots. He would argue that his dad makes him look bad because he is the greatest hammerer in in the north-west of England. Michael has an initial whack so accurate and firm that the job is almost done in one blow. Jason has to build into his. Classic sprinter. Slow slow slow, fast fast fast. Classic man two in a sprint: his dad does the hard shift up front, Jason just keeps the momentum going."
I am Feargal's memory of reading Freud. And I am scared.
They may be super-athletes while dressed in their racing kit but in civvies they're just like you and me. Normal. Some days he just feels like taking a duvet day. They both get knackered walking to the shops. And, in one of the few areas where The Inside Track actually deserves applause, she talks briefly about some days simply not being able to race because she's having her period and how she manages this by being on the Pill.
They are, they tell us time and time again in this joint autobiography, normal, just like you, just like me. A case in point - their reaction when they came home to their little cottage in Cheshire after Rio, when there was so many photographers camped outside that Kenbot One had to go over to their other house just so she could get a shower:
"As a sportsperson, you don't ask for such attention. We're not true celebrities. Celebrities want fame; we want gold medals. We understood the attention that came with the success and we didn't want to appear ungrateful, but it often felt like an invasion of our privacy. [...] I am the girl who used to pull my sister's hair. I am the girl who used to race her up and down my nan's road on our scooters. That's who I feel like now, not someone for whom everyone in a pub should start applauding. A girl who loves riding her bike, a girl who loves a boy who loves to ride one too."
I am Feargal's inner child and when I grow up I want to be an Olympic princess just like Laura and I want to ride up and down my nan's road wearing my Rapha Olympic Princess tiaraTM with no one paying any attention to me at all. Except when I want them to buy my autobiography. Or whatever tat I'm promoting on Twitter this week. Then they'd better be paying attention. Or else.
The claims of not seeking attention, however, do ring hollow. This is a pair promoted by Elton John's management company, Rocket Sports. This is a couple you are more likely to see on the lifestyle pages than in a cycling magazine, a couple who would sooner be interviewed by Jonathan Ross or on Loose Women or by the BBC or ITV breakfast teams than they would be by Cycling News. This is said in an autobiography. A bloody expensive autobiography, by all accounts. And I'm not talking about how much you'll have to pay to read it: the publishers, Michael O'Mara Books, have built their reputation on shelling out big bucks for high profile books - they started out with a Queen mum biog and then hit the jackpot with Andrew Morton's Diana: Her True Story - and the Kenbots did not come cheap, not at the end of an auction euphemistically described as "hotly contested." Just how not cheap may explain why the newly married Laura Kenny is still Laura Trott on the book's cover: when it's the name on the cover that sells these things it's damned inconvenient when a publishing company discovers that the name they'd paid for - hers, no one wanted to pay for his - has been changed by the time the book hits the shelves. Just ask Lizzie Deignan's publishers.
I am Feargal's eye for detail and was pleased to see that as well as her name coming first it is Trott who appears on the left of the book's cover image, seen by many to be the 'power' position.
Kenbot Two, he continues the protestations about how publicity shy they are and how much they value their privacy in a long - long - section of The Inside Track that goes into excessive detail on their wedding (which, when you consider what the publishers paid for this chamoir, you have to excuse):
"What we didn't want was the big day being mobbed by photographers and reporters. We had turned down an offer from a magazine that would have paid for five weddings, twenty if we'd stuck to my budget, because we wanted to keep the occasion for us, our family and our friends. The money would have been forgotten in a few year's time; the day never would."
That magazine they wouldn't sell their wedding photos to, presumably it was not Hello! whose August 29 issue had Kenbot One as its cover star and offered an exclusive interview. And who ran an at-home-with feature with Kenbot One ahead of Rio. Must have been some other magazine.
How can I complain about track cyclists being hard to relate to and at the same time complain about the Kenbots making themselves easy to relate to? Easy: none of this feels real. Appearing on Jonathan Ross or Loose Women or the breakfast news programmes on the BBC or ITV, they're safe, controlled environments. Being interviewed by the Sunday Times or Hello! magazine? Safe, controlled environments. Being profiled in Cyclist magazine? That's a safe, controlled environment. Being interviewed by one of the real cycling outlets? Too much danger of being asked about things like Sutton or Armitstead or TUEs or any of the other scandals out there that could damage the ability of Rocket to market the Kenbots as cycling's golden couple.
And so we get the story they want us to get, a story of a normal boy and a normal girl, told in a two-for-the-price-of-one autobiography. A safe and controlled book.
A book that's so safe and controlled it puts the bog off in BOGOFF.