Over my vacation I brought two books along and completed them both. My only problem was that I completed both books on the first two days of my vacation, leaving me to get some supplementary reading material on the vacation.
The first book I read was “A Dog In A Hat” by Joe Parkin. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is the story of Joe Parkin, who at an early age leaves the USA and moves to Belgium to be a professional bicycle rider.
From the descriptions Parkin provides, professional bicycle riding is to the Belgians and Euros like professional football is in the USA. And I mean American football. Members of cycling teams in Europe have trading cards and fan clubs.
What was most fascinating to learn was that many of the races are fixed before they are finished. In particular he discusses the kermis races in Flanders, and how the negotiations evolved as the race itself progressed. A rider who was interested in winning would make offers to the other riders, who would either accept the offer or ignore it, waiting for a better one. This type of negotiation is absolutely anathema to most US sports fans, as we expect all of our professional sports to be played fairly and as hard as possible by the participants. Parkin makes no excuses for himself or anyone else in the fixing of the races, and simply states that it is just a different way of looking at a result. I leave it to the reader to form their own opinions on that subject.
The atmosphere of the kermis races is a lot like a county fair, as Parkin describes it. Lots of beer and fried food. It sounds like a lot of fun and I hope to take part in one (as a spectator, of course) someday.
Also, Parkin talks very frankly about the many drug abuses he saw in the pro cycling circuit over there. Different drugs of all shapes and sizes are mentioned. None of this surprised me as there have been many, many scandals having to do with drugs over the years in the pro cycling world.
Parkin himself admitted to taking some soft drugs and other things that he didn’t know what were. Again, no apologies. It sounded to me that Parkin was, for the most part, clean, and I respect that.
I really couldn’t put this book down as I found the look into the real world of pro cycling in Europe very interesting. The only professional cycling I typically see here in the States is Tour de France coverage (the live streaming coverage on Versus was excellent this year). I love the Tour, but it would be great to see different pro cycling here.
Speaking of the Tour, Bob Roll cycled in several Tours. His book Bobke 2 is more of a diary than a descriptive autobiography like Parkin’s book. This book is also a very fast read if you are interested in the subject of professional bicycle racing.
Roll’s adventures in the Tour are amazing to me and the scene in the helicopter with cycling greats Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault is one of the funniest things I have ever read. I will leave it to you to read it.
Reading Roll’s book, you get a great feel for the toils and tribulations of a professional cycler on the mechanical side. They crash a lot more than you think and get flats and have other problems all the time. Very different than what you see on TV with the Tour, when a guy gets a flat and within 30 seconds is back in the peloton, with the help of several teammates.
Bobke 2 moves all around the pro cycling world, from the Tour de France to the Giro d’Italia, to other major road races in Europe. It also takes you on adventures on the pro cycling circuit in the US, including mountain riding races.
All in all, Bobke 2 is a very entertaining read, and helps the reader understand the sport of pro bike riding better. I prefer Parkin’s book a bit more, simply because the subject matter fascinated me a little more, but you really can’t go wrong reading either, or both as I did. As an added bonus, each book refers to the other guy here and there, so that made for some interesting cross referencing.
Cross posted at LITGM.