Monday 24 April 2017

Book Review: Steadfast - Lizzie Armitstead

I've just finished reading the new autobiography of Lizzie Deignan, Steadfast, sent to me by the publishers, Blink Publishing, and have found it an interesting read.

The 284-page hardback, co-written with Guardian sports writer, William Fotheringham takes you through Lizzie's trajectory from all-round sporty schoolgirl in Otley, to World Road Race Champion living in Monaco.

Immediately you start reading, the book launches into the appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against Deignan's suspension from competing, following three "whereabouts" violations.

You get a sense of the anxiety that Deignan was suffering during that period, which was practically on the eve of the road race at the Rio Olympics. It's a wonder she was in a mental state to take the startline after she was cleared of the anti-doping rule violation.

Deignan's statement, originally posted on Twitter following her exoneration is included in the appendix. Also in the book, Deignan gives an explanation of how she arrived in the position of staring down the barrel of a ban that would lead to her missing the Rio Olympics. While there is detail to what she says, the thing that strikes me is how critical Deignan is of the whereabouts system, and how flawed she finds it. She speaks plaintively of how only a small proportion of elite women riders are regularly tested, and a system that is meant to maintain clean racing, ends up targeting those who do their utmost to race clean.

The London 2012 Olympic Silver medallist talks about a number of instances where it is clear that the women's road racing teams are not as well catered to by British Cycling as the men's squads. This was very much highlighted during 2015 World RR Championships and to a degree during the London 2012 Olympics women's time trial event. The discrepancy is quite stark, though for many, it may not be a massive revelation particularly if you have read Nicole Cooke's autobiography.

However, Deignan's love for cycling, particularly with her Boels Dolmans team-mates and other internationals in the women's peloton, plus her rides around the Alpes-Maritimes, comes through. She doesn't seem to be bitter about her experiences when racing.

I was particularly keen to know what the atmosphere really was like at the time of the 2011 World Road Race Championships in Copenhagen. My recollection at the time was that there was quite a lot of friction over how much Nicole Cooke really was willing to ride for Deignan to secure the win at Copenhagen in 2011 [in which Deignan finished seventh after being caught up in a crash, and Cooke sprinted to fourth place] or in London 2012. But there wasn't much mentioned around the story, and things are played down in the book.

One thing that Deignan does clarify though, is the 2011 National Road Race Championships in which Cooke accused Deignan and her then Garmin-Cervelo team-mates of deliberately working together against her to help Deignan win.

I've only mentioned but a few of the aspects of Lizzie Deignan's story in Steadfast. Needless to say, it is a page-turner, which gives the reader an insight into the personality of the 2015 World Road Race Champion, and her determination to do things her way to achieve her goals. She is clearly driven, like all elite athletes.

But I like the fact that Deignan is well grounded and regularly refers to her Yorkshire girl roots and her penchant for a white Magnum ice cream - things that show underneath it all, Lizzie Deignan is just a down-to-earth girl telling her inspirational story.

Steadfast: My Story
Lizzie Armitstead
Published by: Bonnier Books/Blink Publishing
Hardback: £16.99

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