I’ve been reading Phil Gaimon’s column in Velo now since it began. It quickly became one of my favorite features. In his column Gaimon answers reader’s questions and somehow manages to be informative, irreverent, and incredibly funny. In the preface of his new book, “Pro Cycling on Ten Dollars a Day” Gaimon explains his motivation for writing the book when he is asked the question, “What do you have to do to become a pro cyclist,” and he turned out a 314 page column in response.
So just a bit of background information, the subtitle of the book is, “From Fat Kid to Euro Pro,” and it covers in impressive detail Gaimon’s cycling life from a youth. He finds cycling a positive influence on his life in high school, it helps him to loose weight and feel better. In college at the University of Florida he joins the collegiate team and does well. He finishes his degree in English but continues to race nearly full time as well eventually working his way through the domestic ranks to become a professional. It’s important to note that Phil has no cyclists in his family, his love of cycling came out of nowhere.
The domestic American cycling scene is something that gets very little attention. There are handful of racers in the United States making good money racing bikes, and a a whole lot of people racing bikes in near poverty. There is no minimum wage and many racers may be on a professional team and making a token salary as Gaimon did for his first few years racing. Through punishing amounts of perseverance and hard work Gaimon works his way through domestic pro contracts and eventually scores a spot on the Garmin professional team and chance to race in Europe.
There are a number of villians which pop up in Phil’s book, chief among them are dopers, the domestic and Euros. Racers like Francisco Mancebo, who was an rising star in Europe but was pulled from the Tour de France after being implicated in doping, though he was never banned. It’s said he had 20 blood bags on ice, more then any other rider implicated in Operation Puerto. Nothing was proven, but he was toxic for the big teams, he eventually found his way to America via Rock Racing, a clearing house of former unrepentant dopers. rider who once came in 4th in the Tour de France was dominating American stage racing.
The book is written in chapters that are broken up with a subheadings which make for a rapid read. Each story, or point has it’s own subheading and I found myself wanting continue reading to follow Phil’s next adventure. Phil was an English major and show’s considerable talent as a writer, is an excellent writer, witty, funny, and informative.
In many ways Phil’s book is the Anti-cycling biography. On the first page he dedicates it to Tyler Hamilton’s lost twin and Lance Armstrong’s missing testicle. He slams riders like Hamilton for doping then writing tell all books about it to cash in a second time. This feels a bit off putting to me, yes Gaimon didn’t dope so he’s in a reasonable position to pass judgement on those who did, yet I think telling the truth as many former dopers have done has changed the sport and should be welcomed. Some former dopers like those on his Garmin team are offered a pass, he writes about this possible hypocrisy which I appreciated.
I’ve said in the past that what I’m really looking for in cycling books is behind the scenes details, I can read race reports and publicity reports online, what I’m looking for is the juicy stuff. Gaimon doesn’t disapoint. In fact there were several times where I had to reread a section just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. There are is so much backroom, back of the bus, back of the race, information here that I couldn’t believe it was published.
Gaimon’s book won’t be for everyone, and especially those that are put off by his colorful language. For example, one passage I highlighted goes, “I heard she was so doped up she had a beard on her penis.” This refers to being a few seconds slower then the woman’s record held by Genevieve Jeansn on the Mount Washing hill climb Profanity is sprinkled about liberally, and while it doesn’t bother me, I don’t feel like it really adds much to the conversation. Throwing in the occasional F-bomb to emphasize a point, or as a matter of reporting events is effective, using it too often just feels a bit juvenile to me, but what do I know? I’m no English major.
Ultimately “Pro Cycling on Ten Dollars a Day” is an astounding success. Gaimon’s thesis is ultimately proven time and time again. Those willing to continue through the hard times and deal with inherent unfairness of pro cycling will find success in the most beautiful sport.