Another gift left languishing on my bookshelf – this time from my brother-in-law rather than my father – since 2006. I'd been putting it off for two reasons. Firstly, I have a lot of other books to read, and secondly, a biography of a cyclist that I didn't really know a lot about failing to break the hour record didn't exactly sound like a riveting read. However, I was assured that it was good, and as my brother-in-law had gone to the trouble of getting it personally signed to me for my birthday it seemed churlish to wait much longer than six years to read it.
Once they realised I was actually reading the book (finally), there was an admission that my brother-in-law features in the book (pages 44-52 in my edition if you wanted to check). The scene is set, Hutchinson has decided to attempt the hour record, but realises he doesn't have a suitable bike (due to various reasons of over-achieving administration only bikes that cyclists no longer use are deemed suitable for the hour record). Luckily, he remembers an old friend from university, a friend who won't ask too many questions – like why would a professional cyclist want to borrow my old track bike – our hero, Lemanski, who lends the author an old orange track bike for his early track tests.
It seems so uniquely British to write a book about failing to do something. Other people celebrate their successes, only we feel the need to proudly display our efforts and shortcomings. Although Hutchinson is from Northern Ireland he's obviously embraced this part of his personality, having decided to write a book about failing to beat the hour record. Twice.
Luckily, that's not all the book is. Yes, in part, it's the story of Hutchinson's idea to attempt the record, his preparation – the trials that befell him and the mistakes that he made – as well as the attempt itself at the Manchester Velodrome. But, it's also the story of the hour record as the blue riband event of cycling. The history, the previous winners, the rivalry between Boardman and Obree, the short-sightedness and ridiculous officiousness of the sport's governing body, the UCI. Interwoven with the story of Hutchinson's own attempt. Despite the fact that he's ultimately describing something that he failed to achieve, his passion for the record shines through. As does his humour, the book is amusingly written throughout, making it a book not just for cycling aficionados, but sports fans in general.