there's not many of us have a keen sense of our own worth, and certainly not within our cycling community (let alone the greater world at large). it's quite likely that larry, bertie and eddy were similarly challenged even during their victorious years, though armstrong and merckx may have gained a smidgeon of insight as the years have moved on. while concentrating on the task(s) at hand, there is little time available to grasp the perspective that is comfortingly all around, but largely invisible. so if you or i were suddenly challenged to write down life's little stories, but realistically placing them with a sense of proportion, we'd be pretty much stuffed.
i'm not having a go at us, it's simply the truth.
so it takes someone with a refined degree of nous to not only attack a career in cycling from the outside, but turn out to be comfortably successful at it for enough years to gain the respect of his peers. american joe parkin detailed the opening stages of his career as a professional cyclist in belgium in the first instalment of his biography; a dog in a hat. generally reckoned to be among the finest books of its genre, it heralded the discovery of a rider who not only knew his place in the grand scheme of pelotons, but turned out to be a particularly fine practitioner of the written word. the opening pages of come and gone are filled with testaments to those facts, quoted from a wide range of knowledgeable sources. they presage a continued wealth of narratve in the pages that follow.
at the end of a dog in a hat, joe found himself without a contract for the following season, and little choice but to up sticks and return to the new world. home. british riders will identify with the situation, given that the uk would hardly be one's first choice of location in which to look for next year's contract. culture shock would perhaps be an apt description. used to a life where new bikes and kit would arrive shortly after signing on the dotted line, parkin had rapidly to adjust to a situation where racing and training could conceivably have to take place in the same kit and on the same bicycle.
as the new year of 1992 rolled in, i was beginning to feel a glint of race fitness, but i still didn't have a team. the money i had saved from my euro team salary and race winnings was running out, and my tulip team clothing was getting threadbare.
joe parkin was never one of the big names in the european peloton, but his ability to work tirelessly in the service of those who were, or thought they were, had made him well-known within the right circles. however, remaining largely unknown on his home continent stored no brownie points in the bank for return to a country with considerably less tradition, knowledge or interest in cycle racing. and the racing was different too. come and gone details joe parkin's return home, and the trials and tribulations that beset a european racer across the pond.
bluntly put down on paper, the prospect of near 180 pages ostensibly detailing the latter stages of a racing career, would seem like a recipe for dreariness. however, i mentioned earlier that joe parkin combines a degree of excellence on the bike, with a remarkable facility on the word processor, so those pages are filled with despair, joy, fun, success and satisfaction. perhaps most satisfyingly of all, he retains an innate degree of humility and lack of ego throughout. joe parkin knows his place, likely his greatest asset, and never allows this to waiver; it's almost as much of a talent and skill as sprinting out of a bunch of marauding cyclists, or pushing into a headwind for hours on end.
with a dearth of road rides available in the usa, and eager to continue with a career as a professional cyclist, parkin switched allegiance to the dark-side and rode cross-country mountain bike for diamond back racing. it's quite possibly a truism that a bike racer is a bike racer; the terrain is merely a backdrop to the performance, and thus parkin enjoyed a degree of success in this change of scenery. his years of pulling at the head of a european peloton for kilometres on end had informed the muscle memory sufficiently to allow for the cardiovascular slog on knobbly tyres. at least, that's what brian smith tells me.
the local mountain bike racers had perhaps even more disdain for me than the road bike racers, but i could get past that if for no other reason than because i could actually race my bike.
"why do you keep doing this? what keeps you coming back?" "i haven't won anything big yet." i responded without even thinking.
i'm not sure i can recommend that you read come and gone without first having read a dog in a hat, but i would strongly recommend that you don't miss out on two of the finest cycling books written and published in the last few years. and while the ending would make you think that it's the end, full stop, i'd like to think that we'll hear from joe parkin again.
posted thursday 3 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................