un chien dans un chapeau

My literary exploration of cycling, confined to those hours where it is impossible or impractical to be actually on a bike, continues.  I’ll be honest, I found Paul Kimmage’s stark style quite hard to take, but A Dog in a Hat, by Joe Parkin, was a far more interesting and readable take on, essentially, the same subject matter.

Parkin, a journeyman amateur from America, moved to Belgium in the mid 80’s, and lodged with a Belgian cycling obsessive and erstwhile truck driver, and his long suffering wife.  His tale follows his experiences as he turns pro, riding for a succession of teams whose lack of success seems to be their defining feature.

Pakin, clearly a very observant character, logs the endless merry-go-round of pro life – the rainy, windswept training slogs in the flat Belgian countryside, the drudgery of the Kermesse racing scene, soaked, as he puts it, in beer and deep frying fat; as he gains experience and enjoys the odd success, we seem him enter some of the more mainstream Belgian and French races (and indeed the Tour of Switzerland towards the end of the book).  The picture he paints is one as grim as the reality that greeted Paul Kimmage, however Parkin manages to add a humorous, and indeed human dimension to his tale.

The rampant drug (mis) use is a thread that runs throughout the story, with the nadir of his career being recounted – when, before a race, he was offered a syringes of something that appeared to have been ‘cooked up in the Dutch equivalent of a trailer-park meth lab’ – resplendent with a dog hair in the barrel of the syringe!  When a young pro of his acquaintance dies suddenly, Parkin’s shock is evident – like Kimmage he entered the sport with no wish to indulge in doping, and as amphetamines were replaced by early incarnations of EPO he reveals the shocking extent to which their abuse was effectively untested – hence the fact that a super fit young man could simply die in his sleep of heart failiure.

The rows, the betrayals, the blatant buying of races; it is all here – a kind of two-wheeled version of Anthony Bourdain’s excellent ‘Kitchen Confidential’.  As background reading to any fan of the Tour (which Parkin never got to ride), this should be mandatory.

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