Over the last few months I’ve been reading Between the Lines: My Autobiography by Victoria Pendleton. Over the last few years she’s been the heroine of British cycling leading the shift from an amateur second class sport to one that rightly stands alongside the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
The book covers the highs – including the numerous world, Olympic, European and national championships that she won – but also some of the lows. As a child she caught the cycling bug from her dad who was a well known amateur cyclist. He was uncompromising in his training, and he encouraged and pushed her to chase him up and down the hills. From here she was spotted by national talent coaches but time and time again she struggled because she wasn’t seen to have the body fit of a cyclist, being too skinny, one official in British Cycling even told her “Miss Victoria….I’m going to find you very annoying “. Like many sports people (just think of Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott to name two) Victoria has often struggled with self-doubt, depression and at times this has sadly led to self-harm.
What was most surprising to me was the difficult politics within British Cycling, especially concerning her relationship with Dr. Scott Gardner, a sprint specialist coach, who was forced out when his relationship with Victoria became public, to the annoyance of much of the squad who blamed her for his departure. She also talks candidly of the sexism rife in the sport, the way in which Sir Chris Hoy had so many more opportunities to win medals purely because he was a man.
In the end Victoria Pendleton had fallen out of love with the sport that defined her and had to be persuaded to stay on for an extra two years in order to compete in London 2012 after deciding to quit in 2010. She ended her career with gold in the Keirin and was robbed of at least a silver in the team sprint by yet another officious unfair ruling before her eventual silver in the sprint.
Between the Lines affords us a rare, behind-the-scenes account of the relationships that consume the most private corners of professional athletes, telling a deeply human story of pain and glory, love and doubt, failure and triumph.