There’s that bit in The Dark Knight Rises where Catwoman warns Bruce Wayne that “There’s a storm coming.” She tells him that “you and your friends better batten down the hatches.” I should have told Phil Gaimon that when I spoke to him about his new book, Draft Animals - Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While). I’ll get to why that is in a bit, as I’d rather talk about what I thought of the book, rather than the controversy that it has kicked off. Incidentally, the biggest surprise for me was that it took so long for the controversy to get so controversial. Guess most of the folk in cycling must be slow readers.
Draft Animals - Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While), is probably the perfect storm of cycling tropes for me. It deals with Phil’s entire professional career, which involves a lot of criss-crossing the USA, sleeping on sofas and in vans, just to turn up for any race where the prize money may make the trip at least partially worthwhile. Readers of this blog will know that the title, The Hard Road (well actually The-Hard-Road because someone already got the good URL), is taken from Jamie Paolinetti’s ace film about the domestic racing seen in the US. Something about the sacrifice and lack of any real recognition, outside of a very small world, deeply appeals to me. Perhaps that’s because it’s not a million miles away from my own racing life, though slightly faster and with a lot more hay bales placed on very technical corners. Gaimon’s book is also about a rider who is determined to make it and to earn his spot in the World Tour, something he achieves at a relatively late stage in his career (28 years old). Again, maybe that plays to my hope that at 36, a Team Manager from the World Tour will realise that my victory in a Regional A race is a sign that I’m about to blossom into the champion stage racer that I was always destined to be.
Gaimon’s career is a DIY one. He made it to the World Tour through his own hustle; he kept himself afloat by running his own business; and since “retiring”, he’s created another career for himself as a youtuber. I think most youtubers are about 12, so once again Phil’s a late gatecrasher at the party. His book is also a DIY effort, in the fact that he wrote it himself. Maybe because having a ghostwriter is not as viable when you don’t leave your sport with millions in the bank, but probably because he’s actually a damn fine writer. He’s incredibly self-deprecating, so much so that it’s surprising that he’s not British. Perhaps that is what has stopped him from coming out of the sport being as bitter and twisted as he has every right to be, although when I asked him about that he told me that he just “bottles it up inside” and he’d “just murdered a homeless man on his run.” That’s what pro-cycling will do to you, I guess.
One of the things I got out of the book was how much pro-cycling involves just a lot of moving in and out of houses, and loads of selling your stuff to the next rider who’s just moved to Girona. Somewhere out there is a shitty old car that’s had about 10 careless owners, almost all of whom were pro-riders. If you're currently driving it then hit me up as I'd like to do a feature on it.
Another thing that I got from the book is that quite a lot of people think Chris Horner is a dick. Phil Gaimon does, and it’s a bit of a recurring theme in the book. That could have been something that the media picked up on if it wasn’t for Fabien Cancellara. We’ve all heard the rumours that he might be the owner and donor of the blood in the bags labelled “Luigi” from the Operation Puerto scandal, although Thomas Dekker has claimed them for himself. We’ve also all seen the youtube footage that makes it look a lot like he’s using a motor when he won Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2010. Gaimon thinks both stories are true, something that I think might have given the lawyers at Penguin Books a few palpitations ahead of the publishing. After a couple of quiet weeks they might have thought that they wouldn’t have had any problems until one of the cycling news sites finally mentioned it. It’s since blown up, and the latest is that Cancellara’s lawyers are demanding that Penguin stop publishing the book and that Gaimon makes a public apology. I’m absolutely certain that that’s not going to make more people want to read the book. I think I might read it again.
If you’ve not read the book yet, but want to hear more about what Gaimon thinks about riders including Fabian Cancellara and Alberto Contador, then here’s a snippet from when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.