Draft Animals Book Review

Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While) is Phil Gaimon’s third book, preceded by Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro and Ask a Pro: Deep Thoughts and Unreliable Advice from America’s Foremost Cycling Sage. Draft animals picks up where Pro Cycling on $10 a Day left off, with Gaimon’s signing to the WorldTour team Garmin-Sharp. The signing is a life changing event for Gaimon, and the book is a reflection on his journey to and through the WorldTour.

Gaimon’s account is not the typical sports autobiography tale, his book is laced with stories of self-doubt, melancholy resignation and moral non-absolutism (Gaimon is staunchly against performance enhancing drugs, yet strikes up friendships with Tom Danielson and Thomas Dekker, who both tested positive for PEDs, subjects which he addresses in the book) on the journey to fulfilling his dream of being a professional cyclist at the highest level.

Gaimon’s book strives to cover every aspect of the life of a professional cyclist: the foreboding financial contract cloud that hangs over every pro’s career, the clash of peloton personalities that occurs both inside and outside races, the locker room hijinks that happen when racers have time to kill in hotels and buses in multiple continents, and the toll that the life of a world-traveling contract employee takes on friends, family and relationships. Gaimon tells these stories with the perspective of an employee that has given his two weeks notice—he no longer has to any sh*ts left to give.

Anyone reading this book will never be left thinking, “Gee, I wonder what Phil really thinks here?” Gaimon is straightforward to the point of bluntness when discussing his colleagues and bosses in the sport. Gaimon names names and tells you what they’re paid. He takes on fan favorites and lesser know racers alike and he delivers his opinions with the directness of a friend discussing work colleagues at the beginning of the second pitcher of beer at happy hour. Phil does not pull any punches when it comes to those he doesn’t respect. He passes on the discussions he and his teammates have about other riders and team directors, and the revelations are so blunt it feels like the lawyers at Penguin Random House were out of the office the day Gaimon’s book was up for legal review.

But Gaimon not only takes a sharp look at the sport, he also levels the same critical eye at himself. He faces his shortcomings as a racer, fiancé, son and friend with the same harsh light he shines on everyone else. He acknowledges the contradictions of his anti-doping stance and his friendships with both Tom Danielson and Thomas Dekker. He gives his reasons for cultivating those friendships and, in the spirit of no longer giving any sh*ts, he doesn’t seem concerned with whether the reader agrees with those reasons or not. He cops to lapsing into the role as the selfish racer who only thinks about riding, and (as a horror to all coaches and nutritionists) he admits to racing on soda and candy in China.

Gaimon’s book is a look at the peloton that is so inside that readers will feel compelled to look over their shoulders to make sure they aren’t being watched by the bike police. He guides you through the financial anxiety, physical exhaustion and moral muddiness of professional cycling with the acceptance of a dreamer whose dream became an all too real reality.

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