Between the Lines
The book opens just before the decisive race of the 2008 Olympic sprint final between Victoria Pendleton and Anna Meares. Pendleton's voice, as it does throughout the book, takes us deep inside her head...
"I'm going nowhere fast. On a set of whirling rollers, with my head down, it feels as if I'm flying without moving. The bike below me shudders a little from side to side but it never moves forward. It just spins on the gleaming drums, the wheels of an otherwise stationary machine whirring endlessly. My whole life shrinks down to these surreal moments. I try not to think about it now; but I can't help it. I'm just one race away from becoming an Olympic champion…
"…I can hardly feel my legs turning beneath me. I can see them pumping and pedalling, in a blur of bony knees and fastened feet, but it's almost as if my legs have disappeared from the rest of my body. Usually, in competition, my legs are in a permanent state of fatigue. A nagging weariness runs through them, telling me how often they have gone up and down, round and round, in ceaseless circles. But during these long weeks in Beijing my legs have been unbelievably quiet. They lead down to my feet, touching the pedals, and I pump them effortlessly, hard and fast, up and down, round and round. There is no ache.
In the first race against Meares these legs of mine were unstoppable. I beat her without really extending myself, winning the first in a possible series of three sprints. If I win the next race I'll have won Olympic gold – the only medal that I came all this way to take. It will be all over then, the waiting and the fretting, and I can go and find Scott. We can drink champagne and maybe even come out in the open. Then, and this rises up like an image of bliss on my static rollers, we can fly home happily.
I am going to win this race. I feel the certainty coursing through me. That arrogance goes against every neurotic bone in my body. Normally, I'm a seething tangle of doubt and insecurity. I question myself, and my ability, every pedal of the way. But not now, not today, not with my legs feeling so strong.
It's taken my whole life to reach this point. The little girl trying desperately to stay in sight of her dad, peddling up a hill until it seemed her heart might burst, would not believe we'd end up here. There were no Olympic dreams then. That small girl, me in a different world, just wanted dad to slow down or look back to see that I was all right. But turning the pedals on the rollers I can now imagine dad driving me on, never glancing over his shoulder while I struggled to keep up with him. Dad would climb away from me on the long hills, a great amateur cyclist who would've loved to have had the chances I had, a father who didn't often reassure me. I just wanted dad to love me, and be proud of me, and so this is where I've ended up...
"On the rollers my legs keep turning, moving faster and faster. My face is utterly impassive. I am not the same frightened and confused girl I was in Switzerland. I am not the same girl who took a Swiss army knife and used it on herself because the cutting was less hurtful than the darker pain inside. Who would have thought it? Who would believe that distressed girl, who harmed herself, would make it all the way to an Olympic final?...
"…I think to myself: 'God, this is going to happen. I am going to become the new Olympic champion.'
I feel ready. I feel like, at last, I'm going somewhere fast…"
After the prologue, we start with Pendleton as a teenage girl, trying to keep up with her father, Max, as he races away from her on their gruelling Sunday morning rides. We follow her to university and, soon, into the ferocious world of professional cycling where she insists on still wearing miniskirts with her GB top, and sparkly sandals, while the men roll their eyes at her girlish whims. She reveals what it means to succumb to despair before becoming a world champion, and then an Olympic gold medalist, before everything threatens to fall apart.
And then, of course, Pendleton fights on and wins again and again. The doubts remain, and the tears still sometimes fall, but in the end there is a sense of release and, even, a kind of freedom.
"I am no longer on a bike, going nowhere fast. Instead, I am on my own two feet, walking slowly, even happily, towards somewhere different and new. I push open the door and step out into the real world."
"Between the Lines is hugely compelling…written with the deft Donald McRae it's instructive just to sit and listen….heart-wrenching…amazing. It's impossible to read the story of the tumultuous journey towards her great part in this, Britain's extraordinary year, without offering up thanks and wishing her all happiness." [The Daily Telegraph]
"Extraordinary...a remarkable autobiography" [The Sunday Times]
"A compelling account of the darker side of sport…admirably unsensational. Fascinating… touching…restrained [but] dramatic reading…a rich portrait" [The Daily Mail]
"So compelling...Between the Lines is unlike most other sporting biographies - certainly I'm not sure I can think of a cycling one that matches it. Most sporting biographies suffer from hiding more than they show. Pendleton cannot be accused of that. Some, in fact, will probably criticise her for revealing too, too much. They'd be entitled to their opinion, but if you want mine, they'd be wrong. By revealing so much - about herself and about the inner workings of British Cycling's medal factory - Pendleton has shown just what price is being demanded of those charged with bringing home the bangles and the baubles. Just take my advice on this: this is that rare cycling autobiography you should read. [Podium Café]
"Between the Lines, written with the renowned Guardian interviewer Donald McRae, offers a fascinating insight into the high-pressure life of a professional athlete....essential reading." [Sport Magazine]
"Subtle...searingly honest....incredibly brave..." [Nottingham Post]