Hunger: The Sean Kelly Autobiography Review

HungerSeanKelly_mediumIf you want to get fired up for a season of riding then a great way is to read a good bike book.  “Hunger” was released in June 2013 so it’s one of the newest options you have, and as the title suggests it was actually written by Sean Kelly himself.

Being a fan of cycling for many years I knew that Sean Kelly was a good professional cyclist, I knew that he was from Ireland, and I knew he raced in the 80s, but that was it.  What I didn’t know was that he was the number one rider in the world for 6 years straight.   Now that I often watch races from Eurosport I hear Sean Kelly’s voice offering color commentary, I quickly grew to like his sparse style of commentary and his accent.

Sean_Kelly,_Tour_de_France_2009Like his commentary I quickly began to appreciate Kelly’s writing style.  His book is straightforward, honest, and full of insight that only someone in his shoes could provide.  Kelly’s career spanned 3 decades, from 1977 to 1994. He saw the great Eddy Merckx in his final years and he was there when Armstrong entered the professional ranks.  In 1984 a computer program was created by the FICP (Federation of International Cycling Proffesionals, forerunner of UCI) that would examine all riders results in the previous season and rank the riders.  Kelly held the number one spot on this list for 6 years in a row.

sean-kellyKelly was a great all round cyclist and found success in all manner of racing.  He could sprint, he could time trial, he could climb, he was one of the greatest ever downhill bike handlers, and he could ride on the cobbles.  He won 9 of the monuments, the most sought after single day races, he won the GC at the Vuelta and the Green jersey at the Tour 4 times, his one weakness was the super long Alpine climbs of the Tour and that kept him from winning it.

So Kelly had a remarkable career at a time when cycling was transitioning from European sport to world wide sport, a transition that is still going on today.  His book describes the racing, the tactics, the backroom dealings, in a frank and honest manner, but don’t expect any bombshell revelations, this isn’t the “Secret Race.’

Fellow Irish cyclist Paul Kimmage is mentioned several times.  Kimmage wrote a book called rough ride, which I’ve read, that details the level of doping that was going on not only in the pro peleton but even as an amateur.  All this before the widespread use of EPO and blood doping.  Kimmage was perhaps the first whistleblower and as you can expect it didn’t it didn’t go down well.

kelly_roubaix_89_670Kelly devotes a chapter of his book to doping and mentions that Kimmage had left the pros in disillusionment and wrote his book, he goes on to say, “A lot of it was true.”  The chapter goes on to describe the 1991 Intralipid affair at the Tour de France when every member of his PDM team all fell ill and had to abandon the race after taking a nutritional intravenous nutritional supplement that had spoiled.  His team were currently holding the top 3 spots on the GC.  He mentions this because even if shady, Intralipid wasn’t banned, they weren’t really breaking any rules.  What he doesn’t tell you is that the PDM was on the cutting edge of doping and may have been one of the first teams using  EPO in the pro peleton.

Later PDM team became Festina which as I’m sure you know caused a near collapse of the Tour in 1998 when team soigneur (helper) Willy Voets was caught crossing the border with a trunk load of dope.  Kelly doesn’t mention  the Voets was his his soigneur.

Does any of this really matter?  Too me, not really, I enjoyed the book immensely and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the sport of bicycle racing.


About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
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