TV producers who create those biographical segments on Olympic athletes could only wish that Chris Cleave wrote their scripts.

In “Gold,” Cleave fashions a life-and-death story of two female cyclists, long entwined athletically and personally, competing for a single spot on Great Britain’s Olympic team.

Cleave’s earlier novels include the bestseller “Little Bee.”

“Gold” feels like a marriage of “Wide World of Sports” with Lifetime television; that’s meant as a compliment. I’m no Olympic cyclist, but his exciting race scenes and coach talk feel spot-on to me. As for the drama between frenemies Kate Argall and Zoe Castle, he has made the stakes as high as possible and is scrupulously fair to both.

Kate, Zoe and Jack, Kate’s husband, have been linked since they arrived as teenagers for elite cycling training in Manchester. Now in their early 30s, they are training for their last chances at Olympic gold. Each, in some way, is also coming undone from stress. Kate and Jack’s daughter, Sophie, is seriously ill from leukemia and the related weakening effect of chemo; Kate and Jack’s life is now segmented into blocks of training and caregiving. As for Zoe, her athletic success and gorgeous looks have made her a billboard star, but she’s dousing the pain of several secrets with one-night stands.

Tom Voss, who coaches both women and is the closest thing to a father figure Zoe has, breaks the news: An Olympic rule change, designed to put more finals and fewer prelims on prime-time TV, means only one of the two can go. Rather than make them agonize through three more months of training, he sets up a race-off.

Cleave gives those four, and Sophie herself, their due in viewpoint scenes past and present. Sophie, 8, takes refuge from her illness in all things “Star Wars,” endlessly replaying the movies and living the scenes in her mind. But she also knows her parents are frightened and exhausted by her illness. “This was the effect she had on people: They drove 20 percent slower, they gripped the handles of boiling saucepans twenty percent harder, they chose their words one fifth more carefully. No one was going to blow a tire and crash her, or spill a pan and scald her, or say the word worry or die.”

In one heartbreaking scene, she vomits into a treasured keepsake in her room, rather than disturb her frazzled and preoccupied mother in the bathroom.

If medals were given for writing scenes of anguished decision-making, Cleave would have as many golds as Eric Heiden. After Kate has left for the race-off, Jack has to rush fevered Sophie to the hospital. If he calls Kate, she’ll surely leave and lose her chance at the Olympics. If he doesn’t call, Sophie may die without seeing her mother.

Even though Zoe is gorgeous and a past Olympic champion, I found it hard at times to believe that she would be such a tabloid target, especially for sexual indiscretions that broke no laws. But perhaps that’s my American point of view, seeing how little attention our media pays to female athletes. That may be easier to believe in Britain, and Cleave, a former Guardian columnist, surely knows the media landscape there.