"First interval: time trial pace; second interval: all out; third interval: chariots of fire."
there's an elderly gentleman of my acquaint who is not only heavily involved in the local gaelic culture, but also well entrenched in the presbyterian church that sits grandly at the top of main street. knowledge of both these facts ought truly to constitute something of a warning triangle, for though religion is a topic that ought to be left aside in polite company (and he is nothing if not polite), locally, gaelic really ought to receive at least one similar nomination.
however, the man has a delightful sense of irreverence that he applies to both subjects. other folks who can be more than pleasant in day to day matters, take on a difficult intransigence when matters of the kirk are under discussion. and in my experience, those of a gaelic persuasion often seem bereft of any humourous bones whatsoever. not only is this gent particularly intelligent in his conversation, but quite apt to relate whimsical anecdotes concerning both the aforementioned subjects.
a refreshing change. take my word for it.
though not connected in any way, shape or form, phil gaimon seems set to inherit a similar mantle, if you see what i mean. though having struggled for almost six years to transmute his skills from the realm of the amateur to that of the consummate european professional, throughout that period he retained not only an excellent sense of humour, but a cheerful irreverence towards his chosen sport.
"When Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a blood transfusion, he claimed that he had a twin who died in utero, and some of those blood cells remained in his body.
"I'd like to dedicate this work to the memory of Tyler's tragically 'vanishing' chimeric twin sibling and to Lance Armstrong's famous missing testicle.
"May they rest in peace."
While many of us have watched the domestic pros participate in local circuit or stage races, in the tour series and similarly exciting yet parochial events, few have any real idea of what it takes to persist at that level. it has paralells with a band slogging round an endless series of pubs and clubs in the back of a ford transit van, vainly hoping that just once, the post gig clear-up will be interrupted by an a&r guy from one of the big music labels. the significant difference between the two is that not once have i found myself with road rash or fractured limbs after even a heavy night's drumming.
but comparable to the travelling musician scenario, there rarely exists, or can ever exist, an homogenous strategy. the young neo-pro can rarely bank on a cohesive racing programme, frequently relying on the occasional step up to the big league, but more often than not surviving on a diet of low budget criteriums, obscure one-day races or perhaps some joined up stages with a peloton of team-mates all desperately trying to achieve the same career move.
if demonstration were needed that these stalwarts have little else in mind than an insatiable quest for the big time, it's their existence on remuneration that many on social benefits would turn up their noses. phil gaimon's hardships were not confined to pain and suffering on the bike. yet despite this, gaimon's upbeat personality rarely seems to leave him alone.
"I have been holding onto this too long. Now that all the other cyclists are admitting it, it's my turn to get some things of my chest, so I can finally start to let go and move on. I was pressured into it by my team, doctors, and competition, and I had no choice. [...]
"I confess: I often left the plastic clip thing off the bread bag. A couple times, I started to cross the street when the red hand was already flashing; and once, the clerk at Whole Foods mistook the $14 fresh almond butter for $5 peanut butter and I didn't correct her."
having achieved some competitive notoriety as an amateur, gaimon's professional career began with an acronym; a team racing as vmg (velocity made good) who paid him the princely sum of $2,000, a couple of bikes and a training camp in the bahamas. the next rung on the ladder was provided by sakonnet. though onward and upward would generally encompass a raise in salary, on this occasion that salary consisted of no money whatsoever while the team took care of bicycles and travel. however, though racing for prize money in order to live might conceivably be considered sufficient incentive to race harder, in truth it's hardly what you'd call making a living. so the following season found gaimon wearing a fiordifrutta jersey and earning the same $2,000 as before but this time with a cannondale bicycle too.
as gaimon states at the very beginning of pro cycling on $10 a day, "I didn't use a ghost writer either. These words are mine.", a situation for which we must be very grateful. for in truth, i gain the impression that phil gaimon would be every bit as entertaining if writing about pizza toppings. though a chapter heading appears every now and again, each is subdivided into smaller, bite size chunks, delineated by sub headings every bit as bitingly humorous as the chapters themselves. "If you win, your tactics were right", "You race harder when you need the prize money", and "Always carry duct tape." are but three examples.
as in many walks of life, a pecking order is implicit if not always adhered to. those who have made it big so to speak, and raced the tour de france are reckoned to be due a level of reverence and respect as befitting their status. from the outside looking in, it may seem that more often than not, such rituals are observed. however, several of gaimon's asides in mentioning the sport's heads of state are anything but respectful.
"Whatever it was, Floyd (Landis) was making himself an unwelcome distraction in the US peloton, and the riders mostly resented his presence. Hartley told me that if Floyd missed the break, I should tell him, 'It's okay, Floyd. You can make up eight minutes tomorrow. I saw you do it that one time.'
somehow you just know that, despite his various setbacks, gaimon is destined to reach the upper atmosphere of the professional ranks. this achievement is delivered towards the end of the penultimate chapter almost as an aside. in fact, i'd to re-read the paragraph just to make sure. "After the flight, I sat on the cold, metal edge of the baggage carousel in San Diego and checked my e-mail while I waited for my friend JC to pick me up. Jonathan Vaughters had sent me a contract to join Garmin sharp in 2014."
such is the personal involvement i felt with gaimon's career to this point, i almost felt like cheering. it is of great credit to the author that not only are the details of each swing and roundabout impressively related and recalled, but the conversational manner of his writing imparts a remarkable feel good factor. it's not altogether light reading, but it is a highly compulsive, humorous and insightful look at the life of an ambitious workaday professional cyclist as he strives for a chance at the big-time. granted, phil gaimon is an american through and through, and the racing he describes is no less of the same ilk, but if you've notions of riding with a following team car, i suggest you read this at least twice before stepping further into the fray.
"I did my training over the winter, and now I'm awesome."
thursday 4 september 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................