There was a time when the GB elite cycling team could probably have held their team meeting in a red telephone box. The mid-90’s was a time when Great Britain was far from dominant, when it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that our cyclists would be instrumental in an Olympic medal haul. Tonight’s hour-long BBC documentary about Victoria Pendleton showed just how far GB cycling has come since the ’90’s.
In my opinion, any documentary following the life of an elite athlete is worth watching. While most of the material was slickly managed PR, the makers did tackle some tricky subjects. Namely the “Scott Gardiner phase” where he and Victoria Pendelton fell in love. The athletes and coaches are expected to stay on their own side of a professional boundary; no fraternising. But these days people often meet their partners at work and if you’re work involves cycling round a velodrome well you can’t just switch off your emotions. Shane Sutton’s recollections showed that GB cycling showed that it isn’t a faultless machine.
At the top end of the sport the gains are “marginal” as GB Performance and Sky boss Dave Brailsford calls it. Getting the equipment and the body are only two sides to the triangle. Steve Peters, the team’s psychologist is entrusted with getting the brain functioning properly. Victoria wears her heart on her sleeve (next to her Pumpkin’s tattoo) yet I was surprised that it’s always Steve who was called upon to sort out the trackside emotional stuff. After her competitor’s disqualification she falls to her knees at news that she’s won the 2012 World Championships 2-0. “Get up, it’s time to put a smile on for the cameras” says Peters – sometimes it’s tough love in the world of elite cycling.
Bernard Hinault could lay claim to the most elegant exit from cycling. It’s arguable that Hinault’s shenanigans at the ’86 tour with Lemond slightly sullied his legacy. Victoria Pendleton’s clearly trying to orchestrate her retirement: obviously a gold medal, a fade to black and roll the credits is what’s needed. However, as her nemesis, Aussie Anna Meares said “the big dance is in London” and the music hasn’t stopped just yet.