Rod Ellingworth: Project Rainbow - review

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Rod Ellingworth: Project Rainbow – review

Rod Ellingworth’s Project Rainbow is partly a coaching manual, partly a first-hand account of British Cycling’s rise to prominence and partly story of triumph, tragedy and lots of bloody hard work.

Written with William Fotheringham, who also co-wrote Bradley Wiggins’ My Time, Ellingworth chronicles how he went from a cycling-mad school-kid to the mastermind behind Mark Cavendish’s World Championship triumph in 2011.

Project Rainbow by Rod Ellingworth

The triumph, of course, was the Manx Missile’s win in Copenhagen, the tragedy includes the sudden death of Team Sky soigneur Txema Gonzalez and the life-threatening moped crash suffered by academy rider Jonny Bellis in 2009.

The hard work makes up the narrative of the book, the story of how the British Cycling academy came to be and how Ellingworth and his fellow coaches helped turn an overweight scally teenager into cycling’s greatest ever sprinter.

Ellingworth starts with his own grounding in the sport but he does not bore readers with a race-by-race account of his upbringing, only picking out the key moments in his career which led to his backroom role.

What comes across throughout the book is that this was certainly not a pre-destined path for one of the most under-rated staff members at both British Cycling and Team Sky.

Instead, we see a man keen to develop, always learning and desperate for his charges to succeed both as riders and as well-rounded individuals.

Project Rainbow tells the story of how Ellingworth helped turn an overweight scally teenager into cycling’s greatest ever sprinter

Of those riders, the book largely centres around the career of Cavendish – who, in 2004, was part of the first intake into the British Cycling academy programme, and without doubt the most successful on the road.

Unlike more deliberate coaching manuals, Ellingworth makes it apparent from the off he is not a numbers man and the book succeeds as a result of its lack of wattage outputs and race results.

Instead, he focuses more on the routines, the discipline and the regular rider-led meetings and sessions which turned British Cycling into the world-renowned institution it is today.

Along the way are tales of the punishment faced when riders failed to adhere to the expected behaviour – a public dressing down after missing a break in Cornwall, for example, or cleaning the team bikes after being late for the bus.

Mark Cavendish celebrates his victory on the Champs-Elysees in 2012 in the rainbow jersey. The story of how he became world champion is told by coach Rod Ellingworth in Project Rainbow (Pic: Sirotti)

There is also the lighter-hearted side to it, with a painful splinter to Cavendish’s, erm, manhood one detail to bring a tear to a man’s eye.

There is also the time Cavendish hid his then-girlfriend in a cupboard when Ellingworth unexpectedly called at the house in Fallowfield, Manchester, he shared with two of his fellow academy riders.

And anybody who has shared student accommodation will fully empathise with Ian Stannard, who became so infuriated with Steven Burke’s habit of leaving eggshells lying around he reported it to the coach.

That he is no longer a part of the academy he formed is clearly a source of great disappointment to Ellingworth, but it is not something he dwells on in the book as he prefers instead to move on to the success achieved since.

This is the story of British Cycling’s success – and it ends with the tantalising prospect of more to come

Not that this is a self-gratifying list of achievements either – for every Copenhagen 2011 there is a London 2012 and the latter is one of the few times doping makes an appearance in the book, with his bitterness at former blood doper Alexandre Vinokourov’s gold medal not hidden.

It is also a ‘how to’ guide: how to coach young people, how to coach the best, how to coach full-stop, how to manage and what it takes to make it to the top in the cycling world.

In all, the book is hugely interesting and ideal for anyone wanting to know more about what happens behind the scenes, rather than just the end product we all see on the road. It is written at a good pace, with the central subject – the World Championship win – never too far from the narrative.

For those who have grown into cycling with the success of Great Britain on the track and tarmac, and now with Team Sky, this is the story behind the results. The fly-on-the-wall documentary, the insider account of arguably one of the biggest success stories in British sporting history – and it ends with the tantalising prospect of more to come.

Project Rainbow will be published on Thursday October 17 and Rod Ellingworth be at Lord’s Cricket Ground on Sunday October 20, from 7:30pm-8:30pm, to discuss his new book as part of the London Sports Writing Festival

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