Last stop, Sheffield

To Sheffield and the final stage of The Cycling Podcast’s tour (for now), which also doubled as part of the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival. As I joked at the start of the event, I managed to achieve a lifetime ambition by headlining the Saturday night at a festival.

We were in a cinema at the Showrooms and I think the comfortable burgundy chairs made for a fairly relaxed vibe. Perhaps it was too relaxed in my case, because I cocked-up when I was reading a piece from Richard’s Tour de France diary in our book, A Journey Through the Cycling Year. I’d mislaid my copy, in which I’d marked up the paragraphs to skip past, and so I missed out the wrong line and had to go back. I made a joke of it, moved on and I think I got away with it.

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The questions at the end were again very good. One was about the role of journalists in the whole Team Sky, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome story, which is a subject I’ve been covering in my recent blogs, Eight Years Covering Team Sky. I’ll try to resume that series this coming week.

Another thought-provoking question was about the choice of cover photograph on The Cycling Podcast’s book. It’s an absolutely fantastic picture of Alberto Contador on the Angliru at the Vuelta a España by Simon Gill. Simon has captured a moment that seems to say so much. Contador tackles a hairpin bend a couple of kilometres from the summit of the final mountain stage of a chequered career. Contador’s head is turned to look up the road, his teeth bared with the effort. Fans in the background cheer him on enthusiastically. Photographers on the other side of the road to Simon are capturing the moment from a different perspective. At first glance it looks like Contador is smiling, although on closer inspection it’s clear he’s grimacing.

A couple of people have emailed us about this choice too, and the point they are making is that by putting him on the cover of the book we are glorifying a rider who served a suspension for an a doping offence. Part of my answer was that no endorsement of Contador is implied by the choice of photograph.

Of course, people are free to disagree with that view and if we neglected to discuss in the podcast Contador’s past and what he and others represent I would take the point, but the thing is we strive to cover the good, the bad and the ugly in cycling as appropriate.

Last week, when Richard and I planned the podcast, knowing that the discussion of the DCMS report, Wiggins and Sky would be long, I suggested splitting it and putting out two separate episodes, one focusing on racing, one on Sky. Richard countered by saying that the grit, drama and glorious anti-glamour of Strade Bianche and the murky world of doping are not separate, they are two sides of the same coin. Professional cycling is not one or the other, it is both.

The same goes with Contador. He was taking part in the Vuelta, he was without doubt the most aggressive rider, determined to go out in a blaze of glory, and his quest for a final mountain stage win was one of the most intriguing sub-texts of the Vuelta. To acknowledge that is not to ignore his past. When assessing his legacy, we must weigh up all aspects of his career, as we have done. It’s not our job to airbrush him out of history.

So, our book tour takes a break. We will head to Scotland for the re-arranged dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow next month but for now I can get back to normal life without the strange sensation of butterflies building each afternoon.

Across five nights, we’ve appeared in front of about 1,200 people, we’ve signed a lot of books and met a lot of lovely people. If you’d told me five years ago, when Richard, Daniel and I sat down in a London park a week or so before the 2013 Tour de France to record the first episode of The Cycling Podcast on Richard’s iPhone, that we'd eventually do this I’d not have believed you.