If you follow Velonews, CyclingNews, or any other major cycling website, you’re bound to have heard about Phil Gaimon’s comments claiming Fabian Cancellara allegedly using a motor in his bike during his heydey – specifically during his wins at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The comments came out in Gaimon’s new book; Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While). The cycling media had a field day with the comments, writing numerous stories until Fabian Cancellara’s legal team threatened legal action against Gaimon unless the publisher took the book off shelves. The book is still on the shelves, I think. It’s definitely still available on Kindle. Pretty sure when something is on the Internet, you can’t take it off. Just science.
Before we do any sort of review of the book, we sort of have to address these comments to get them out of the way. First, if you follow Gaimon at all on social media or watch his interviews, you know he’s an opinionated individual. That is, of course, a very kind way of saying he’s a total smartass. That comment was just one of many in the book that tell the dirty secrets of the very corrupt, very dirty world of professional cyclists. Keep in mind – an entire generation of professional cyclists injected EPO, a drug initially manufactured to help cancer patients, in order to win bike races. The idea of a guy putting a motor in his bike shouldn’t be far-fetched at all, considering it’s happened at lower levels of the sport. More than once.
So, about the book. If you liked his first book, Pro Cycling on $10 a Day, you’ll absolutely love his follow-up effort. Draft Animals is another book that tells the nitty-gritty of being a pro at the highest levels of the sport and dealing with the, well, complete bullshit that is professional cycling. Stories of riders buying their way onto teams, learning to tolerate and ride with former dopers – some repentant and others showing no remorse – and having probably the most crooked boss ever in the form of Jonathan Vaughters. Just like his comments on Cancellara, Gaimon pulls no punches when it comes to people, organizations, or well, anything. The man is nothing if not consistent. And extremely sarcastic.
It’s refreshing to read a cycling book that is real and honest. If you’ve read any of David Millar’s books, or Wiggins’, or even Froome’s, you’ll know that cyclists have a habit of being woefully softly-opinionated and out of touch with reality. Phil realizes that even though he works his ass off on the bike, eats right, and makes enormous sacrifices in the pursuit of success, at the end of the day he’s just a marketing piece to his sponsors and his team. In this book, readers see just how transactional the relationship can be between team and rider, team and sponsors, and sponsors and rider. For evidence, Phil refers us to the relationships between Lance and Trek and Nike. Trek made tens of millions of dollars as a direct result of Lance’s success – knowing full-well how he was winning those Tours de France. The same day their cash cow admits to his sins, he’s dumped by Trek and Nike.
Phil (and me, for what’s it’s worth) still thinks Lance is a horrible human being. But he was the most successful horrible human being in a sport riddled with liars and cheats. And when you read about Phil’s scraping to get by even at the peak of his career, praying and begging for contracts even after excellent performances as a team helper, it makes his resistance to doping even more admirable.
Gaimon is a terrific writer. Humorous, moving, with an unwavering dedication to keeping the bullshit to a minimum. I’d highly recommend this book. While annoying as hell on social media, Phil comes across extremely well-rounded and aware of his responsibility as a role model to his readers. He’s one of the few people who will say, “No, maybe you shouldn’t follow your dreams. It might kill you and you probably won’t make it anyway.” And for that, he’s one of the few honest people in a sport that has seen more than its fair share of charletons and snake oil salesmen.
You can buy Draft Ancharlatansyour Kindle, but you should probably support your independent bookstore instead. To that end, I’m not even going to link to the book on Kindle. Don’t Google it. Thanks.