New tell-alls are on the way from the ‘loyal lieutanant,’ big George Hincapie, and the ‘Postal Bus’ diarist Michael Barry. I am not sure if I will read them, but if I do, it will be against my better judgment, begrudgingly putting money in the pockets of liars and cheats, and guiltily rubbernecking away at the roadside wreck that was professional cycling in the era of omerta.
Standing in direct contrast to that is “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day,” by Phil Gaimon, recently released by VeloPress. ‘Phil the Thrill’ is about as subtle as a slap in the face, sporting a large tattoo of a bar of a soap with the word ‘CLEAN’ forever etched upon his skin. While he comes to recognize and admit late in the book a bit of a grey area in his feelings about dopers after training and becoming friendly with Tom Danielson, the majority of the book deals in black and whites, good and evil, friend and foe, with lines clearly demarcated by those who do and those who don’t.
There are heroes and villians, with Mancebo filling that role perfectly and providing the perfect nemesis for Gaimon to repeatedly bump up against, chase down, and eventually best. It’s great to see good guys like David Guttenplan get some ink and recognition for all the blood, sweat, and tears given to make our beautiful sport something to be proud of for a change, and the book will certainly make you appreciate the sacrifices made to do something you love. It is a remarkable era where athletes such as Gaimon, Myerson, all the way up to Taylor Phinney and other professionals are exceedingly accessible via Twitter and other social media. Soap may cleanse, but sunlight is the best disinfectant and the level of transparency demonstrated by Gaimon, in this book as well as in blogs for the Tour of Cali, etc, is exactly what it will take to restore some faith that riders are truly racing clean. Phil Gaimon is also a surprisingly good writer (again, for me, standing in direct contrast with Michael Barry,) and I highly recommend the book, for what it represents, as well as for simply being a good read.
VeloPress has two other notable releases recently. “Land of Second Chances; The Impossible rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team,” is an extremely compelling story told by Tim Lewis, who has written for GQ and Esquire, among others. His style is very much that of a reporter, and at times the story gets a little bogged down, but is still a very worthwhile read. Missing the mark slightly for me was “Reading the Race; Bike Racing from Inside the Peloton,” by Jamie Smith with Chris Horner. Having Horner’s name on the cover is a tad disingenuous as his contributions are simply anecdotes to illustrate the lessons being put forth by Jamie Smith. Some of these are somewhat valuable and certainly will be of some interest to anyone interested in racing, but they are fairly basic, and don’t really differentiate themselves from information easily garnered from any number of internet sites.
It’s incredibly maddening that dopers steal careers and make millions, then write books about their illegitimate lives and get even richer. On principle alone we should bootleg their books (or better yet, ignore them) and buy and read books by clean riders like Phil Gaimon. But the truth is you should buy and read Pro Cycling on $10 a Day because it’s a fucking awesome book about the love of bike racing.
PCOTAD is the unghostwritten autobiography of an immensely gifted cyclist who shows huge promise only to endlessly pay and repay his dues, seemingly never to score that big contract. Gaimon tells his tale with surprising frankness, naming names while detailing things like team managers’ sleazy negotiating tactics to teammates’ pre-race rituals (read: masturbation). He also reveals why you should never demand that he flush the toilet if you find yourself sharing a hotel room with him. Most of all it’s a hilarious and gripping account of the gypsy life of a domestic pro, driving long hours from race to race, hoping to win some cash to buy gas to the next race.
In Gaimon’s case those long drives sometimes ended on Monday morning at a college exam. Maybe that’s why the book is so readable – he’s an intelligent guy who writes well, even if it’s often about his very crude sense of humor. More than anything it’s a testament to hard work and dedication, a man chasing his passion long past the point of reason and finally scoring the big break, a ride with Garmin.
Unrelated footnote: NYers will enjoy the book for cameos by the Sakonnet team, Matt Koschara, Eric Kyoo Min, and Basil Montsopoulos.
If you wanted to count all of the compelling books written about the domestic pro racing scene you might only need one finger (which finger you choose is up to you), because right now Phil Gaimon’s book “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day” is the book you want to read. “Phil the Thrill” (a name coined in irony) tells the story of his transition from fat kid to college student to domestic pro in a manner that is witty, real and blessed with perspective—something that most professional athletes possess in very small quantities.
This book reads like a conversation with a good friend at a bar on dollar pitcher night. It’s confessional, confrontational and sometimes controversial. If bikes had a locker room, the stories from “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day” would be shared there. Phil shares the zany stories from the road with teammates, the frustrations of being on a smaller team and racing with the more established teams, the desperate negotiations with team managers, the heroes and villains of the road (spoiler alert, Phil does not like Mancebo) and the realty of living as poorly as a Mormon on a mission—pros may ride their bikes faster but drive a whole lot more.
There are a few pros you want to send to races just to hear what they’ll say when they get back. George Hincapie, for example, has never been one of those people, as he’s just up-chucked cliches and vomited sponsor’s names, Gaimon however is the rare racer who can occasionally put his head up and survey just how screwy his world has become, you know, like a person would.
Gaimon has since moved on to the land of the big time and is currently riding for Garmin-Sharp, so maybe there’s a sequel in the works—I can’t wait to see what happens to Mancebo.