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The Medal Factory British Cycling and the Cost of Gold By Kenny Pryde

Release date: 22nd February, 2020
Publisher: Pursuit Books

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Kenny Pryde has brought all of his 30-plus years’ experience writing about cycling for a variety of specialist magazines and national publications to produce a compelling read, tracing the sport’s seemingly inexorable rise in the UK, thanks to a prolonged period of ‘marginal gains’, followed by its dramatic fall from grace.

Cycling, he maintains, went from being a “derided sporting irrelevance” to “knighthoods and cereal box endorsements” as it careered towards centre stage in British sporting culture. As a result, tens of thousands of us began making regular pilgrimages to watch the Tour de France where we expected to see British victories and to Manchester’s fantastic velodrome to take note of up-and-coming youngsters as millions more watched on TV

The author identifies July 1992 and Chris Boardman’s victory at the Barcelona Olympics as the start point of British cycling’s golden age. The annus horribilis, he says, began in March 2016 when Jess Varnish missed out on Olympic qualification by the narrowest of margins, prompting a wide-ranging inquest into the sport which unveiled more dirty linen than many people anticipated.

In between, British cycling enjoyed a gloriously uplifting, patriotic ride. From Jason Quealy claiming gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a 20-year-old Bradley Wiggins part of a medal-winning pursuit team at the same Games, to further success at Athens four years’ later and Nicole Cooke’s stupendous win in torrential conditions in Beijing in 2008, our cyclists appeared invincible. The glories of London 2012 and multiple successes on French roads only reinforced this belief.

There was, of course, only one way cycling could go.

In spite of the success, writes Pryde, “by 2016, British cycling ended up staring into the abyss, racked by self-doubt, excoriated in the media and criticised in Parliament…Was there ever a sport so fulsomely praised before being brought to its knees as rapidly as British cycling?”

The short answer is probably ‘no’, but this shouldn’t overlook the incredibly valuable work done by Sir Dave Brailsford and Peter Keen (and Sky). British cycling does not deserve to be pilloried. Were those at the top ruthless? Probably. Was the success all attributable to luck? Almost certainly not. Did they cheat? Over such a prolonged period? Unlikely.

The Medal Factory is a fascinating read which highlights the growing importance of sports science across most sports and the characters who ensured the science was applied in the pursuit of success

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