At Speed by Mark Cavendish – a review in under 300 words

At Speed, the second autobiography from Mark Cavendish following 2010’s Boy Racer, covers the tumultuous three years between 2010 and 2013; including the highs of 2011’s Green Jersey and World Championship wins.

By focusing on this relatively small period rather than an entire career, the book is able to provide a lot more detail than one might expect. It is one of the better insights into the life of an elite pro cyclist that I have read: each page littered with the sacrifices, compromises, drive and passion that “Cav” makes every day of the year in order to maximise his innate talent and ability.

As you would expect from someone as newsworthy and allegedly controversial as Cavendish, At Speed does not shy away from discussing and explaining some of the more higher profile incidents that he met with during that time. But instead of the standard PR drivel that emanates from a lot of sports books, what you get is an honest appraisal of the situation, irrespective of who that means comes in for some criticism: friends, teammates and more often that not Cav himself.

The book doesn’t often stray away from Cav’s career but inevitably one chapter focuses on Lance Armstrong’s doping confession. Again, Cav is nothing but forthright but it’s hard not to agree with most of his conclusions, not least that those the same yardstick is not being applied across the piste to those involved.

All in all, At Speed proves a worthy companion to the increasingly prolific canon of books written about professional cycling and a fascinating understanding of possibly the most talented sportsman of his generation.

Twiction Lunch rating – 9 spokes out of 10


Bluebird and Tomahawk (tweeted 25th Oct 2013)

Looking back, the break-up had been inevitable from the moment she handed him the key-ring. Allegedly a blue fluffy bird, it looked more like a malformed marshmallow rolled in a pile of carpet droppings.

It was the first thing she had made with her new found passion for sewing and when it was presented to him one evening there was a mixture of pride and self-deprecation in her voice. For his part he thought it looked ridiculous and when she said “Of course you’ll be taking this to work tomorrow to show off what your wonderful wife can do” he took it with an extremely large pinch of salt.

Come the next morning he had already forgotten about the comment and barely noticed the blob lying purposely on the kitchen bench next to the sandwiches that she had packed for him before heading to work herself.

Later they arrived home in the winter dark at the same time, dumping their coats and bags on the hallway floor and unleashing their scarves. He opened the door to the lounge, turned on the light and walked over to the kitchen to start the ritual of cooking dinner together. But for some reason she didn’t follow him.

When he turned around he saw that she was bent down picking something up from under the couch. She stood, glared at him accusingly and held out her hand. Lying on it were the remains of something that had all the hallmarks of having been savaged by their cat Tomahawk. He smirked sheepishly and started:

“It must have been very realistic for him to have done that.”

The look that followed spoke volumes and that evening he ended up cooking by himself.

Yes thinking about it now, it was then that their troubles really began.

The Island (tweeted 23rd Oct 2013)

Like all of her friends, she left the island as soon as she was old enough.

Unlike the others she came back, bringing a husband and a daughter with her.

The distant city that in her youth she had worshiped had lost its shine; the thrill of the energy transformed into fear and frustration. In turn the carefree peace of her childhood quickly became mythologised and when Beth was born she longed to have the same for her.

Idle throwaway remarks quickly became forceful arguments with her husband but eventually she won him over with stories of summer skies sparkling with fireflies and bathing in diamond pure lakes.

At first it was largely as she remembered. They even managed to catch a large brown crab with a hunk of bacon in their first few days, and the three of them sat around a small fire on the beach, prising the buttery flesh out of the limbs with their tongues.

Summer rolled in, dry but not oppressive like in the city. Fresh fruit and vegetables were plentiful and the neighbours were only too happy to share with the island daughter who came home. One day Beth picked a basket of peaches and took them down to the beach to share with the other children.

And then, a few days into September there was a knock at their door. It was their neighbour, a greying elderly woman who had run the local store for as long as anyone could remember.

“Good evening Mrs Munro, I’m sorry to call unexpectedly but I need to talk to you regarding something delicate to do with your daughter. You see, some of the people around here have been expressing a few concerns about her clothes.”

From that moment, everything on the island changed.

Cranes (tweeted 21st Oct 2013)

The heat in Kaori’s tiny room was becoming unbearable; damp, intense and claustrophobic. After a long day of school, followed by the private tutor her father paid for at great expense, the humidity made study impossible.

She folded a tight red paper crane and tossed it on the desk with the others, her standard time-wasting method. Scattering them with the back of her hand she pushed her chair back and headed to the window. Her friend Yuki lived in the apartment opposite and they would often sit there looking at each other across the narrow airspace.

She caught sight of a movement below and recognised the local homeless man scouring the lobby vending machine for forgotten coins.

Instinctively Kaori headed to the cranes on the desk and picked one up. Back at the ledge she leaned out, hesitated and then dropped it. It floated gently through the still air, like a maple shedding its autumn leaves, and landed just behind the machine. Catching sight of it, the man stopped and leaned around to pick it up. At that moment she knocked a pen off the side and out into the air. It plummeted arrow-like for six floors and without any sound hit the man on the crown, crumpling him to the floor from where he was crouched.

Kaori froze, fixed on the shadow of the toppled figure, her breath deserting her lungs.

The only sound was the dull thud of a thousand frustrated housewives beating their dusty futons clean in the early evening sun.

She was brought back to her senses when her thin bedroom door slid back and the tobacco stained smell of her father’s shirt entered.