About The Book
A Spoke in the Wheel
The first thing I saw was the wheelchair.
The first thing she saw was the doper.
Ben Goddard is an embarrassment – as a cyclist, as an athlete, as a human being. And he
Now that he’s been exposed by a positive drugs test, his race wins and his work with
disabled children mean nothing. He quits professional cycling in a hurry, sticks a pin in a
map, and sets out to build a new life in a town where nobody knows who he is or what he’s done.
But when the first person he meets turns out to be a cycling fan, he finds out that it’s not
going to be quite as easy as that.
Besides, Polly’s not just a cycling fan, she’s a former medical student with a chronic illness and strong opinions. Particularly when it comes to Ben Goddard…
I couldn’t hear what the two of them were talking about. I couldn’t even be sure they knew who I was; but when the girl in the wheelchair went off to the toilet, her friend (who’d got up to hold the door open, but otherwise left her to it) came over to me.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, ‘but you’re Ben Goddard, aren’t you?’
This woman seemed like she’d be more likely to approve of my being Ben Goddard, so I admitted to it. ‘I am.’
‘Would you – would you mind signing my magazine?’
This was really not how I’d imagined my new, non-cycling, life starting out, but a friendly face was a friendly face. And hers was friendly, and quite pretty, too, in a freckly, red-haired, snub-nosed kind of way. ‘Sure,’ I said. I scrawled my name on the front cover, right across the Union Jack held aloft by the women’s pursuit team, who would no doubt be horrified to be associated with me like this. With that in mind, I added the date. ‘There,’ I said. ‘It’s a collector’s item now.’
She looked quizzical. ‘First thing you’ve signed since the news broke?’
‘And the last,’ I said firmly. ‘Should I put your name on it?’
‘Why not? Vicki. With a C K I.’
‘And your friend?’
She laughed. ‘Better not. Polly’s got principles.’
Ouch, I thought.
Then Polly herself reappeared, giving me a dirty look in passing, and Vicki got up in a hurry, and didn’t speak to me again. But she winked at me as they left.
I waited for the door to close behind them before sighing with relief and returning to my coffee. It was not amazing coffee, but I supposed that was something else I’d have to get used to. A discerning palate was a luxury that I could no longer afford. I considered the items I’d collected that morning. A copy of the local paper. The cheapest smartphone I’d been able to find. A pen; a notebook with some useful addresses – the Jobcentre, some lettings agents – copied into it. It didn’t seem like much to show for this alleged new life of mine. I could barely feel the weight in my bag as I traipsed back to the dingy bed and breakfast I’d booked myself into yesterday. The icy January sea breeze should have refreshed me a bit, but it didn’t; it blew straight into my face and just felt like yet another thing to make life difficult.
Still, it was warmer than my landlady’s Arctic glare, the one she gave me when I slunk in. I muttered ‘Good morning,’ and then realised it wasn’t morning any more. I’d have to get some lunch, but I couldn’t face going out again, not just yet, so I trudged up the narrow stairs to my room, instead, and lay down on the bed without taking my trainers off. It couldn’t make the covers any nastier than they already were, and anyway, what was the point?
I stared at the cracked plaster of the ceiling and thought about my options. Part of me wanted to pack up and leave. Meeting those two girls had to be a bad omen, that part of me said, and I should get out before worse happened. I’d been in town five minutes. I had nothing to keep me here. No home, no job, no friends. I’d only be throwing away the cost of a train ticket and two nights in this dive; it wasn’t a high price to pay for another jab at the reboot button. I’d been unlucky, that was all it was.
But there was another voice that said: you’re going to have to get used to this, you know. If two people recognised you in this little town, what do you think it’ll be like in a big city? Do you really want to quit so soon into this?
Besides, it added, while I was thinking about the word “quit”, you don’t believe in omens.
Except of course I did. I was as superstitious as any man in the peloton. I used to throw spilt salt over my left shoulder, stroke black cats for luck, turn my race number upside down if I was allocated 13, just like anyone else. Look at how I’d ended up here, for God’s sake. I’d stuck a literal pin in a literal map. (It had landed in the sea, but that was neither here nor there. This was the nearest bit of dry land.)
I was a quitter. Of course I was. If I weren’t, I’d have taken whatever ban they handed out to me and badgered my team into keeping my contract open while I retreated to Majorca to keep up with my training and wait out the term in penitential fortitude. Instead, I’d flounced (there was no other word for it) into my team principal’s black glass living room and announced that I was quitting the team, that I was quitting professional sport, and that I was quitting cycling altogether.
Henri had raised an eyebrow and carried on eating crisps. I suspect, with the benefit of hindsight and a cool head, that my act had solved more problems for him than it had caused. I’d only got in this mess because I was shit-scared he wouldn’t renew me beyond next year. Now he had an excuse not to. At one stroke I’d turned myself from a liability into a scapegoat.
I’d like to say that at least I felt better for it, but actually I didn’t. The hot mess of shame and anger was still boiling away inside me, and now there was the embarrassed consciousness of having behaved like an idiot. More of an idiot than I already was, I mean. It felt like I’d let him win.
For the thousandth time, I reconsidered my options – the options I’d had at the time, and the options I had now.
I could have dropped Henri in it. Or could I? It’s difficult to work out the share of blame. I know that what I did was one hundred per cent wrong. And I knew that when I was doing it. But does that necessarily mean that everyone else was one hundred per cent right?
I called to mind those little hints that perhaps I should talk to Dr Wolfsen; that ultimatum, that if I didn’t match Caprini’s performance I didn’t have a future in the team… But Henri had never said it in so many words: There’s always EPO, you know. He’d left that kind of thing to Dr Wolfsen. So much for Henri: he could maintain plausible deniability, could claim he’d just been acting out of concern for my health, had no idea I’d take it that way. Dr Wolfsen: I could finger him – except somebody else would probably have done it by now, if it was possible. Mélanie, disposing of the evidence, and knowing what she was doing, and hating it. (Not as much as I did, I thought.) Caprini… (But perhaps he really was that much better than me…) I had no hard evidence. I’d just be another rumour on top of all the other rumours, and I couldn’t afford to get sued by Henri, the way Leclos had.
OK, nobody could afford to get sued by Henri, but I couldn’t afford much else, either. I wasn’t quite stony broke, but I needed to get a job fast.
And that job wasn’t going to be in cycling. I’d meant what I said to Henri. I was done with cycling forever. I’d left that world and I was going to start a new life doing something completely different. Where nobody knew me. Where nobody knew what I’d done.
Except for Vicki, with a C K I. And Polly, who had principles.
About The Author
Kathleen Jowitt was born in Winchester, UK, and grew up deep in the Welsh Marches and, subsequently, on the Isle of Wight. After completing her undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Exeter she moved to Guildford and found herself working for a major trade union. She now lives in Cambridge, works in London, and writes on the train.
Her first novel, Speak Its Name, was the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize.
You can contact Kathleen Jowitt here:
Amazon author page https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kathleen-Jowitt/e/B01CDJN1HE/