I’m still not sure how I felt about this book. I’ll admit I was pretty excited to read it. How could I not be when it combines two things I happen to really like a lot – cycling and the Olympics? (Have I mentioned that I am an Olympics junkie? I imagine you’ll hear more about that as we get closer to them…) Gold is about a love triangle among three elite cyclists, who have all set their sights on the upcoming London Olympics. Jack and Kate met on the track while training and are now married, with a daughter, Sophie, who is sick with leukemia. Zoe is the cyclist who completes the triangle, having had a short-lived relationship with Jack before he and Kate were serious. Zoe is ruthless and initially pursued Jack just to get into Kate’s head. She honestly can’t imagine her life if it does not involve winning Olympic gold again (she won in Athens and Beijing). Kate, who, just considering pure talent is better than Zoe, allows her personal life to trump her cycling aspirations. She puts family first and gives up her dreams of gold in Athens and Beijing to take care of her daughter. Sophie is a darling little girl who hides her true condition from her parents to lessen their worries. She is also obsessed with Star Wars. There are long passages that involve Sophie imagining herself as a Jedi, and I found these scenes to be distracting and hard to get into – I ended up skimming those parts, grateful when they were over.
Another important character in the book is time. A cyclist is obsessed with time – when you can win or lose a race by one thousandth of a second, it matters. There never seems to be enough time – not for their coach, who mourns his glory days, not for Sophie, for whom chemotherapy does not seem to be working, and not for Kate, for whom there are not enough hours in the day to train, and take care of Sophie. Zoe, too, is obsessed with time – she seems to be racing against it in that she is always running from her past. She’s a tragically flawed character, but she does such extreme things that it’s very difficult to like her or even want to understand her.
The insights Cleave gives to the sport of track cycling are just fascinating. These men and women ride to such extremes that they begin to lose their vision on the bike. Their heart rates push 200 bpm. They drive their bodies to unimaginable pain. And yet they’re addicted to it. Cleave makes you feel like you’re on the bike with them. I found myself tensing my muscles and leaning into turns as I read. However, my main problem with the book is that there are too many coincidences – somehow something always goes wrong right when Kate seems to catch a break. It becomes a little hard to believe. Also, Sophie is a little hard to take sometimes. But read this for the experience of immersing yourself in a world unlike one you have before.