Cycling Word Play

Review: At Speed: My Life in the Fast Lane

I am a cycling fan. Once upon a time, I considered myself to be a cyclist as well, but as I keep flipping pages on my calendar, I find myself less-and-less entranced by the prospect of getting out on my bike and suffering … but I am still a cycling fan, and lover of cycling history.

What that means is that I can be a rather voracious reader of all things cycling related; magazines, web pages, books, memoirs, biographies, race history, and even fiction. As with all genres, there is some truly fantastic material out there, as well as some truly atrocious material.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, Mark Cavendish’s book At Speed: My Life in the Fast Lane, is neither. I know, it sounds kind of weird to say something along the lines of “unfortunately, it isn’t atrocious” but when things are truly bad, they can actually inspire a passionate response, even if that response is one of utter vilification.

AS:MLITFL is a mildly amusing collection of autobiographical anecdotes chronicling Mark Cavendish’s chase for the green jersey at the 2010 Tour de France, the rainbow jersey in 2011 (both during his last years racing for HTC High Road), his solitary year riding for Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour de France, and his move to QuickStep in 2013.

I mustn’t forget, we also get to learn how Cavendish met his then girlfriend, now wife Peta Todd. While certainly quite readable, neither Shakespeare nor Wilde need fear being supplanted in the annals of literary masters.

In other words, it’s not a bad book. It’s not a great book. It is, for lack of a better description, a rather forgettable bathroom book. “Oh, I have to go spend a few minutes in the Kingdom; I’m glad I have some light entertainment while I am seated upon the throne.” Don’t judge. We’ve all done it.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading it, and the one thing I remember most about the book is that if it were a movie, the MPAA would be forced to give it an R-rating instead of PG or PG-13, simply because it exceeds the generally allotted solitary F-bomb for the lower rating.

Cav does spend the obligatory chapter discussing Lance Armstrong and the revelations that he had been doping for most of his career, and surprisingly for me, this one chapter was the most revelatory about the content of Cav’s character, and was actually one of the most disappointing aspects of the entire read.

Cav recounts when he first met Armstrong, at Interbike in Las Vegas in 2008, and says that while they weren’t close friends, they got on well, and that while he wasn’t naive about Lance, he wasn’t going to let “speculation prejudice [his] relationship with him,” while further iterating that it’s hard to demonize someone who always treated you well and that what happened in the 1990s and early 2000s has no bearing on the way things are now … and yet, when the USADA report came out and Armstrong finally confessed to doping in early 2013, Cav admits to effectively throwing Armstrong under the bus, and cutting him out.

Regardless of how you, or I, or anyone for that matter feels about the whole Armstrong situation, it is a part of our collective cycling history. Accepting someone’s friendship when it suits you, and then throwing them under the bus when it no longer does so speaks volumes. I seem to recall that a certain brash Texan very often did the same thing throughout the course of his career.

And yet, despite his bad-boy image, Cav wants us to know how he wishes to be remembered.

“A few words on a mucky stone, maybe draped with some old cycling jerseys, should say it all: Mark Cavendish, cyclist, Tour de France lover and fighter, former world champion, and above all, family man.”

At Speed: My Life in the Fast Lane, by Mark Cavendish was published in 2014 by VeloPress, and if not in stock can be ordered by your favorite local bike shop or book store.