Sport on TV: Fat chance for the shrink who teaches monkeys to ride bikes

Click to follow

It was appropriate that the bikes in the Manchester Velodrome didn't have any brakes. The four women who took part in My Big Fat Cycle Challenge (Sky Real Lives, Tuesday and Wednesday), in which they spent 14 weeks with the British cycling team management in a bid to lose weight, were unable to stop themselves from eating and drinking. They submitted to the challenge in a bid to break the cycle of despair that years of yo-yo dieting had left them in. Given the rigorous regime that had brought our glory pedallers eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, the girls would either break the habit or break down in the process.

There have been many such challenges on TV, but this fine double-header was not so much about the women as it was about Dr Steve Peters, Team GB's "mind mechanic". A psychiatrist who specialises in extremes of the mind, this is the man who is quietly responsible for making cycling Britain's most successful sport – even though we have nothing like the bespoke culture that they have in France, Spain and Italy.

That most fragrant heroine, Victoria Pendleton, was on hand to describe how Peters had stopped her from "non-stop beating myself up" before races. The gold medallist in the individual sprint in Beijing had suffered "horrendous moments", according to Peters, before his "Kings and Queens" psychology got her back on track.

His new queens could have been accompanied by a soundtrack by the rock band of the same name. Here were four fat-bottomed girls who didn't want to ride their bicycles. But Peters, who had worked at a high-security hospital before joining Team GB, showed them the way to escape their life sentences by releasing their "inner chimp".

The chimp is what he calls the emotionally dominant part of the mind, which is five times stronger than the human element that it had "hijacked" years ago. While the male is obsessed with power, ego and sex drive, the female is all about food, maternal instincts and insecurity, based on protecting their young from predatory males. Thus womankind tends to suffer from low self-esteem, irrationality and anxiety.

The idea is to learn to control the chimp. The British team obviously deserve even more plaudits for riding like the wind with monkeys strapped to their backs, trying to grab the handlebars.

It made a welcome change that this TV challenge was completed within two episodes on consecutive nights. Normally these programmes drag on week after week, which makes lasting the distance almost as tough as sticking to a diet.

The only problem is that cramming 14 weeks of effort into two hours of telly leaves the viewer as bloated and exhausted as the girls.