I find myself sur la canapé a lot lately, so have taken it upon myself to get educated about my new-found hobby. I’ve got a growing pile of cycling books on the bookshelf now and thought it might be an idea to share my thoughts on some of them. So let’s start with a nice, light topic – doping.
Rough Ride, by Irishman and former pro domestique, Paul Kimmage, was the first book to shatter the code of silence within the peloton on the subject of doping. The story is a fascinating look at the innocent pre-blood-doping days of the 1980s, when drugs were certainly rampant, but restricted to relative lightweights like amphetamines and caffeine suppositories. The book is essentially the story of his riding life, which ended in utter disillusionment and a very early retirement – at least that was his intent, he says. The way the book was received in the peloton was as a scathing attack on his old friends and, consequently, he lost them all. It is an honest telling of the rough realities of pro cycling on ‘The Continent’, where the level of competition and physical demands were so high that it was, according to Kimmage, nearly impossible to survive there without ‘preparing’. Although I don’t think he named names in the book, the conclusion was obvious to his former comrades – he was pointing his finger straight at them.
The book was written when he was still young and the style reflects this. Still, it is certainly readable and the story trumps any lack of flare he might have had. On the other hand, I might be completely wrong there because the book won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 1990, and he quit cycling to become a sports journalist in Ireland – someone thought he could write!
Rough Ride has been updated with a new introduction and a few postscripts to bring things up to date. What they detail is the change that has taken place in the eyes of the public concerning doping. It might be hard to believe, but before 1990 there were no big drug scandals in cycling; well none that really stuck. In the post-Festina and Puerto era we pretty much expect someone to be busted for doping at the Tour each year. There were no whistle-blowers back then, unlike the trickle we have coming out of the woodwork today. Kimmage must have had great courage to write what he wrote, when he did.
Since then he seems to have been trying to ignore the sport, returning to it from time to time to stir up more trouble. Here is a famous exchange he and Lance Armstrong had at the Tour of California in 2009, the year of Lance’s comeback.
This book is a great introduction to the pervasive culture of doping in cycling that, as you will see in my next book review, didn’t stop in the caffeine-tablet-up-your-bum ’80s.