Domestique: The True Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Cyclist
A remarkable true-life story from behind the scenes of professional cycling
For 11 years I was a professional cyclist, competing in the hardest and greatest races on Earth. I was in demand from the world's best teams, a well-paid elite athlete. But I never won a race. I was the hired help. When my mum dropped me off in a small French town aged 17, I was full of determination to be a professional cyclist, but I was completely green. I went from mowing the team manager's lawn to winning every amateur race I entered. Then I turned pro and realized I hated the responsibility and pressure of chasing victory. And that's when I became a domestique. I learned to take that hurt and give it everything I had to give, all for someone else's win. When the order came in to ride it was I pushed out with the hardest rhythm I could, dragging the group faster and faster, until my whole body screamed with pain. There were times I rode myself to a standstill, clutching the barrier meters from the line, as the lead group shot past. But that's what made me a so good at my job. As my career took off, I started looking at the fans lining the route, cheering us like heroes. The passion for cycling oozed off them, but they couldn’t know what it was really like. They didn't see the terrible hotels, the crazy egos, or all the shit that goes with great expectations. Well, this is how it is.
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This is a grim and humorless read. If the intent of the book is to provide the feeling of being a domestique -- endless days on the pedals with no glory as a reward -- the book accomplishes it. It's a slog, like a 150 km ride on the cobbles in the rain. One would hope for the occasional wry observation, humorous anecdote, or just some behind the scenes revelations, but all you'll get is Charly pedaling away and bemoaning his lot in life. Spoiler alert: It ends with Charly looking back on what he seems to regard as a wasted life, and you looking back on the hours wasted reading this book. If you have a friend or relative who thinks the cycling life might be their calling, you might want to give them this book as a means of dissuading them from that dream. Together with books like Tyler Livingston's doping confessional, it made me glad for the first time that I'd never pursued the sport more seriously than I did.
A really compelling and interesting read, bringing a realistic voice to life in the peloton from somebody who has been right at the centre for many years. Fantastic book and not a line of saccharine romanticism in sight!