Thursday, 20 June 2013

Easy Rider by Rob Hayles

If I was to ask you who was the most important person in the renaissance of Great Britain's track cycling revolution you would probably point out a few people to mention.  Your shortlist would no doubt contain Chris Boardman, Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and or David Brailsford.

Whilst the first four names are all either Olympic or World champions and the last name is the scientific genius behind them all with the new training regimes and analytic performance.  However, there are always the nearly men, the men who came so close to glory and yet for one reason or another failed to become the household name their endeavours so richly deserved.

Rob Hayles is one of those nearly men. In spite of being the proud recipient of two rainbow World championship jerseys for the Team Pursuit and Madison in 2005 (Los Angeles) and three Olympic medals (two bronze, one silver); Hayles' name is the type you really have to know your cycling to recognise, despite his continued involvement in the sport following his retirement in 2011 - as a training partner of Manxman Cavendish or as a commentator for Eurosport or BBC Radio.

Hayles has written a biography entitled Easy Rider: My Life on a Bike; the title is a pun of course on the seminal counter-culture film directed by Peter Fonda and Denis Hopper in 1969. Whilst Hayles whilst never an anti-hero, the title is misleading as the life and career of any top level elite cyclist is anything but easy.

Hayles started out as an amateur cyclist who quickly became renowned for his speed on the track and yet he was not averse to riding on the road as he did for French team, Cofidis, tackling long stage races on the road when a team-mate of David Millar, allowing us to hear a different interpretation of the mask of Millar who succumb to drug usage in spite of being naturally gifted and heralded as a class apart.

Hayles freely admits that he hates training, and that his laid back nature could be infuriating to team-mates who continually work hard and yet do not enjoy his level of success.  In contrast to the metronomic nature of people like Boardman who are knowledgeable and precise; Hayles comes across as a carefree soul who just loves to ride his cycle - for fun, for money, for life.

Reading about Hayles attempts to make Olympic teams, his watching the new blood come through his compelling and makes you wonder what the man would have achieved if he had been able to sustain Lottery funding for himself instead of it being granted halfway through a twenty-year career.

Hayles is at pains to make clear that without the National Lottery funding that came after the complete Great British team debacle of 1996 (when only Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent won a gold medal together in rowing), Britain needed to change before a lost generation of potential was lost.

The funding allowed for more coaches, better training facilities including the construction of the Manchester Velodrome; when Hayles started there was only one in Leicester.  Now there are four nationwide including the aptly named Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the place where Hayles fittingly concludes his book in the epilogue.

As Hayles enjoys his summit at the 2005 World Championships in Los Angeles, he is joined by a star-studded cavalcade of future talent - Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, Ed Clancy, Jamie Staff, Jason Queally, Cavendish and Victoria Pendleton.

Whilst the 2004 Athens Olympics were fantastic, the 2005 World Championships seems to be the watershed moment for British Cycling - four gold medals including the two for Hayles; one silver and one bronze giving a total of 6 putting them atop the Medal table - this would lead to the domination of the 2008 Olympic cycling programme in Beijing with Hoy's three gold medals amongst the 8 track/road Gold medals amongst 14 total - the great story goes that every member of the British cycling team flew home with an Olympic medal, except one, Mark Cavendish (who still searches for one but that's another story).

The hardest thing about reading a biography of a person whose name you may know, but be unfamiliar with, is that you have to trawl through a lot of material before you get to the good stuff such as the victories.  Hayles is not shy either to mention the drinking enjoyed by the team after the championships and why not, how often can you celebrate being the best in the world.  The book whilst a bit dour through the hard training regimes, it practically soars when the good times arrive.

Hayles writes freely and candidly letting us into his relationship with wife Vicki, a former Olympic swimmer, and how the pressure of training and competing puts on their partnership, but never making you think other than his admiration of her talent.

Whilst all biographies can be deemed as selfish, Hayles never gives the air of arrogance about his achievement - the surprise is how ignorant he is of his place in the vanguard of British cycling, every sport needs trailblazers who capture the imagination of the many and the respect of his peers.  Hayles has many friends that still compete, they should be grateful that he was there 20 years before them to make sure they have the platform and innovation of training to make them fulfil their potential, something but for a bit more luck would have done so himself.

Easy Rider: My Life on a Bike by Rob Hayles is released by Transworld Publishers on Thursday 20th June for £16.99 rrp

Hayles wrote the book in conjunction with Lionel Birnie, who covers the Tour de France for the Sunday Times and writes for Cycle Sport and Cycling Weekly

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