The Cyclists’ Book Club pt II
I have finally read the book I posted on some months ago, ‘Rough Ride‘ by Paul Kimmage. It has sat in a holding pattern of new books waiting for my attention, which is my habit – like an Italian politician with his women, I can have two or three books on the go at one time, but I give each one due attention.
It is a superb book, direct and unadorned, but although not a natural author, Kimmage tells his story very well. He turned pro in 1986, having grown up in Ireland and dreamed of becoming a competitive cyclist, a vision which had culminated in him representing his country at amateur level.
Moving to France to ride for a pro team, Kimmage tells of riding the races we all dream about – the 500km Bordeaux-Paris which was non-stop save for a half-hour break for a change of clothing, and after which he had to crawl up the stairs to his bed; the Tour of Flanders and its miles of misery, pave and abuse. The rides are documented in a blunt, honest fashion – many times he is dropped by the peloton and quits the race, the describing the deep shame and self-loathing as he sits, warm and dry, in the passenger seat of the team car.
But it is the culture which shocks and sadness you most as a reader. When he arrives in France, Kimmage is offered pills routinely – vitamins, liver pills, and others which he can’t describe the composition of. He initially refuses, but then as he lives with his fellow cyclists, he becomes vestigially aware of the long aluminium tube routinely stuffed into the back pocket of the jersey, containing a syringe of amphetamines, primed for delivery into a rider’s veins at a pre planned point along the route. Saddest of all is when he reflects, on being dropped from yet another peloton, how can he possibly compete against cyclists whose answer to the challenges of a long, tortuous French or Belgian classic is to pump themselves with amphetamines?
I shan’t give too much away about the rest of the book, but it is well worth a read, get it by clicking the link at the top of the page.
I am now awaiting delivery of Joe Parkin’s classic, ‘A Dog in a Hat‘, which promises more gritty euro-cycling truths. A review shall follow in a timely fashion.