View from the Sofa: Sarah Storey's glorious failure is a riveting display of true sporting grit

World Hour Record; UCI YouTube Channel

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The Independent Online

It’s one thing revelling in the glory of victory; that’s the easy part of sport. It is quite another to witness failure – especially when it is drawn out over an extended period, careering inexorably towards a disappointing conclusion.

No, we are not talking about England’s cricket team. We are referring to Dame Sarah Storey’s near miss on the hour record on a bicycle on Saturday afternoon.

And please don’t mistake the flippancy of the previous paragraph for disdain at Storey’s effort. Her distance of 45.502 kilometres at the velodrome which staged the London Olympics may have been 563 metres behind the mark set by Leontien van Moorsel 12 years ago at altitude in Mexico, but it was a monumental ride nonetheless. And she broke two world records – the C5 paralympic record and the masters age-group mark.

But the sheer inevitability of the whole exercise, watching Storey metronomically circuit the laps with the record tantalisingly out of reach, was riveting. As she grimaced with around 25 minutes left on the clock, her entourage were collectively shaking their heads. Her husband Barney even made a cut-throat gesture. But she kept going. Most of us would have stopped pedalling as soon as it became vaguely apparent that we wouldn’t succeed.

The commentator, Anthony McCrossan, also refused to give up. Even when Rob Hayles, a former elite cyclist, told him things like “this is a massive uphill task for her” as Storey clocked in behind the par time with 18 minutes to go, McCrossan still persisted with words like “gutsy” and “you never know”. We did know.

And when Magnus Bäckstedt, part of Storey’s backroom team, said when the rider was 40 seconds off the pace with just seven minutes to go that “she has a quite bit to make up now”, McCrossan still saw the doughnut, rather than the hole.

Finally, with three minutes remaining, as Storey upped her pace to 19.5-second laps (which she needed to have done over the whole hour), McCrossan saw the light. “Maybe she has left this surge a little too late,” he said with unironic understatement.

He knew, she knew, we knew – Storey was going to fail. And yet she carried on. To the point where she couldn’t even sit, let alone stand, after finishing, due to her body cramping. So why did she continue? Because she could. She admitted afterwards that “with 30 minutes gone I thought to myself ‘oh no, I’m only halfway’...” but she refused to stop.

It was down to Joanna Rowsell, Storey’s team-mate and friend, to give us a clue as to why we persisted in watching despite the impending failure. She said: “She’s such an inspirational rider and it is an incredibly brave move to attempt the record.”

She was right; it was inspiring to watch someone refuse to throw in the towel. She showed grit. She showed guts. She showed the English cricket team a thing or two.