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Team On The Run - The Inside Story of the Linda McCartney Pro Cycling Team

By Brian Palmer

Image: © Mainstream Publishing
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Team On The Run - The Inside Story of the Linda McCartney Pro Cycling Team
by John Deering. Foreword by Sean Yates.
Published by Mainstream Publishing, £15.99 hardback, Illustrated, 220 pages

Books dealing with the world of cycling and cycle racing are often aimed at "serious" cycle fans, in that those with limited or no interest in cycling matters, would be fairly unlikely to rush out and buy them.

This book, however, is different. We'll come to its author's background in a moment, but I have to recommend this book to absolutely anybody, whether you are the least bit interested in cycling or not. It is a genuinely enjoyable read and gained me several strange looks from the dog when I began laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

For those unacquainted with the fact that there was ever a cycling team using Linda McCartney's name (yes, that Linda McCartney) it's perhaps a good idea to fill in the blanks. Around the end of 1997 and beginning of 1998, a man called Julian Clark had the excellent marketing notion of having the Linda McCartney range of vegetarian foods sponsor a fledgling cycle team. The premise was, what could be a better example of how healthy a vegetarian lifestyle was, or could be, if a top level team was developed that would eventually compete in the Tour de France that was sponsored by the Linda McCartney Foods Company? One of the major kudos behind such a venture was that all the riders, mechanics, admin. staff etc, would be vegetarian. There's actually nothing new in top flight cyclists being vegetarian - Robert Millar, Britain's highest placed finisher in the Tour and King of the Mountains in 1984, and yellow jersey holder, Sean Yates were both vegetarian during their competition years.

The Linda McCartney operation saw this as being a highly marketable commodity, as well as receiving personal nods of approval from Sir Paul McCartney and the late Linda McCartney. So a team was created that was to compete in major UK races before taking in continental racing.

John Deering, who at first worked for Sigma Sport in Surrey (and apparently now does so again), through fortuitous circumstances, became the team's press officer which gave him first hand access to the rise, and eventual fall, of the team. Deering is quick to point out, at the beginning of the book, the difference between cycle team sponsorship and that of many other sports, such as football. "…David Beckham plays for Manchester United, and he happens to have Vodafone written across his chest. If his team were a cycling team, they would be called Vodafone." The team expanded from containing purely UK riders to being multi-national, more or less dictated by the need to compete at an International level and the woeful state of British cycling relative to that in Europe (The Men's Elite Road Race at Zolder this past weekend was run off at a record average speed of just a smidgeon under 30mph over about 160 miles!).

As the team expanded and took part in higher level races, naturally enough the costs escalated, not just from the equipment and travel point of view, but from the salaries of the riders they felt it necessary to employ. So the chase was always on to increase the amount of sponsorship available to the team, now solely the responsibility of the man who started it all, Julian Clark.

Although Deering states that the full story will probably never be known, the demise of the team at the end of 2000 was also the responsibility of the same Julian Clark. From information, some of it freely admitted as secondhand, Deering has pieced together the team's downfall. Sponsorship money that was 'guaranteed' by Clark to have been in place, subsequently turned out to be just so much hot air. This resulted in the team racing in the Tour Down Under in Australia with jerseys sporting the logos of Jaguar Cars and Jacobs Creek wines when, in fact, neither was sponsoring the team, and Jaguar had actually asked the team to remove the logo from their jerseys because they had never had any intention of sponsorship. It also transpired that there had been no money at all from Linda McCartney Foods for 2001 - the team had merely been allowed to use the name to help attract other sponsors.

That's the basic story of the team but John Deering, with a very neat line in self-deprecating humour, has managed to describe the team's joys and successes (winning a stage in the Tour of Italy at their first attempt) in a book that is hard to put down. In fact I received my copy from the publishers on Monday and had finished its 220 pages by Tuesday. Granted, I'm a cycling fanatic and have been known to spend hours looking at exploded diagrams of Campagnolo Record Gran Sport derailleurs, but this book doesn't require the reader to have any specific interest in the world of cycling. You just have to have an appreciation of human endeavour, and what can be achieved by people with a passion for what they do. In fact I'd go so far as to say that if you enjoyed the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby/Dorothy Lamour "Road To" movies, then you'll enjoy this book (and that is meant as a major compliment). If you're not old enough to know what those movies are, it doesn't really matter anyway, you're old enough to appreciate the relevance of this story.

Many of the anecdotes are priceless. In the team's early days when they were less well equipped, Clark enquired of then team leader Sean Yates how he would manage to pedal up a particularly steep climb, given the very limited range of gearing available. Yates told him he knew of this particular climb, and that the trick was to put it in the biggest gear possible on the approach, and his speed would carry him round and up the major part of the hill. Clark did as he was bid, but struggled heavily to get over the climb, having to change down through all the gears to eventually scrape over the top. When the stage was over, he expressed his admiration that Yates could climb such a fearsome hill in such a big gear. Yates reply "Oh yeah, sorry about that, it wasn't the same climb I was thinking of."

Although this book is just in the shops now, and is therefore out only in hardback, don't wait until the paperback comes out. This is a story that needed to be told and it appears that Deering was easily the right man to tell it.

To order this book

Cyclingnews and Amazon have joined to bring this book to you. Priced at just £11.20 plus postage, you can own this essential addition to every cyclist's bookshelf. To order from Europe and the UK, just click here. For North America, Asia-Pacific and rest of the world, use this link

Price guide: RRP£15.99
Sizes: 220 pages.
More information: Mainstream Publishing's website
Cyclingnews Rating: Click for key to ratings

What do you think of the Team On The Run book? Let us know

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