Number 49 in Cycle Sport’s all time list of the greatest ever cycling books is, by pure coincidence, a book project that was pitched to Michael Barry by…Cycle Sport. I love it how when you come up with an idea, the idea gets implemented, and then you get to vote it as one of the greatest of all time. Next week I’ll be doing a list of the fifty greatest cycling blogs of all time, and can’t wait to vote on my own greatness.
“Inside the Postal Bus” is Michael Barry’s account of riding for Postal and an insider’s view of what it was like to support Lance Drugstrong in his Tour campaigns of 2002-2004. Barry doesn’t let it get in the way of the story that he never rode the Tour.
The short answer to the question, “Should I buy this book?” is “No.”
“What if I can get it on Alibris for $1.99?”
The answer is still “No.”
“What if I can get it at Half-Priced Books for fifty cents?”
“What if a friend gives it to me?”
That person is not your friend.
The blurb review
It’s my opinion that books purporting to be factual should not be filled with deceptions and lies. So perhaps the best way to review this shovelful of shit masquerading as a book is to present the book’s jacket blurbs and contrast them with the actual book.
“From winter training camp in California to the Tour de France, ‘Inside the Postal Bus’ offers an accurate behind-the-scenes view of our team. If you have ever wondered what the life of a pro cyclist is like, read this book.” Lance Armstrong, 7-time Tour de France winner and teammate.
Michael Barry’s book doesn’t offer a behind the scenes view of the team in the Tour, because Barry never rode the Tour. The book offers a series of jumbled observations that Barry gleaned from watching the Tour on television, like the rest of us. If you have ever wondered what the life of a pro cyclist is like, after reading this book you’ll conclude that it can be summed up in one word: Coffee. Barry mentions the coffee machine on the bus so often, and updates us on details like whether it was working, that you can’t help think that “coffee” is code for “homologous drug transfusions, steroids, and EPO.”
If you’ve ever wondered what a pro cyclist’s life is like, you’ve wondered about training regimens. Barry is silent on this topic with the exception of a description of some early season team rides. So apparently pro cyclists do some “bonding” type easy miles early in the season, and that’s it. The other topic that’s ignored is doping. It’s interesting to read through Barry’s list of heroes, great riders, people he admires, and icons of the sport with today’s after-acquired knowledge of all the riders who were busted for doping.
Vino, Landis, Hamilton, Beltran, Armstrong, Bruyneel, and on and on and on, the boys on the bus, the magic bus, the happy bus. The “accurate” view that Lance promises in his blurb would really only be achieved with descriptions of how they did the drugs, where they stored them, how Bruyneel organized it, and what the mechanics were of shooting up before a big race. We don’t get any of that.
The subject that the book doesn’t skirt is the wonderfulness of LiveStrong. He’s the kindest, strongest, best person ever, a patient signer of autographs, a thoughtful and brilliant team leader, an inspirational fighter of cancer, and an unbeatable competitor when combined with Johan Bruyneel, who also gets mention after mention for his fantastically super smartfulness and cleverity.
“A truly remarkable story of Michael Barry’s life alongside a squad ruled by one man–Lance Armstrong. It is a great read.” Phil Liggett, OLN Cycling Commentator.
When I think of a remarkable life, I think of Helen Keller or Teddy Roosevelt or Abe Lincoln or Christopher Columbus or Winston Churchill. I don’t think of a Canadian dude whose dad owned a bike shop and who spent his career as a routinier in the service of Lance. Far from being remarkable, Barry explains that his life as a domestique is boring, hard, and not all that interesting. To call the book a “great read” is, like virtually everything else that randomly tumbles out of the mouth of Phil Liggett, rubbish. The book has no organization; it doesn’t even have a story. Various things are haphazardly thrown in with no connection to anything else. His 2003 Vuelta campaign starts at the beginning, and mysteriously ends at stage 5.
The next chapter randomly talks about the hotel, about bumping into Johan in the hall, and a reminiscence about riding in the snow in Toronto as a child with “Joe.” Great read? It’s nothing more than “Michael Barry’s random thoughts. Catch ’em if you can.”
Barry does, however, display a keen sensitivity to sponsor suckass and nutlick. He mentions all of the Postal sponsors repeatedly. Berry Floor refloored the team bus. AMD helped design everything, including the bikes, because all the computers used AMD chips. Clif Gels get copious mention. Oakley and Nike get air time, and a portion is even devoted to the big sponsor dicklick where the entire team has to travel to Scottsdale and let the wanker sponsors ride with the boys.
For those who really want to lap up the encomiums, there’s great stuff about how wonderful Sherly Crow was, how she rode with the team occasionally, and about uber-wanker Robin Williams when he was in his Cat 4 mode and fed the addiction by groupie-izing the team bus during Drugstrong’s Tour victories.
“Barry has cycling in his blood. And now he has shown that he can write more than passably, too.” Vancouver Sun.
He’s done no such thing. In fact, he’s shown that he can’t write at all. There’s not a single drip, drop, or drab of analysis or insight into what makes any of the actors in this book tick, how they endure the hardships of the sport, or why cycling should capture your interest or imagination. Barry describes people as “awesome,” “fantastic,” and “incredible” as a substitute for describing them through their characters or actions. Instead of doing the hard, heavy lifting required to bring life to the world’s most boring spectator sport, Barry has generated a concatenation of insider-speak anecdotes for road junkies. You can make sense out of it only if you follow the pro peloton, and even then it’s a mishmash. Much of the writing, far from being “passable,” is garbage. Entire sentences, even paragraphs, add nothing except to help meet the word-count requirement of the editors. Like what? Like this…random opening to page 152: “Lance couldn’t have had two better guys [Hincapie and Ekimov.]
Or this, on page 60: “But that is the way it goes…” or “Generally everybody fits together really well; there really aren’t any cliques.” It’s one long string of platitudes and uninformative statements with zero peeking behind the curtain. The activities on the bus are shrouded in the same veil of omerta at the end that they were at the beginning.
“Written in an artculate, fast-flowing style…Barry has a keen eye for the minor details of professional life. This is the main reason that the book offers a real and rare sense of what it is like to be part of a major squad.” Cycle Sport.
They pitch the project, market the project, and then vote it one of the best books ever. Gotta love the wankers at Cycle Sport! Unfortunately, they lie. The book isn’t articulate; it’s written in the crude, rough, workmanlike prose of someone who spends hundreds of hours pedaling and not many hours writing. Barry admits his difficulties in the foreword and it’s the only honest thing in the entire book. It’s not fast-flowing, either, in fact it doesn’t flow at all. We go from training camp to his childhood to early season races to bus descriptions to here and there and everywhere. The only thing missing are the green eggs and ham. While it’s true that Barry mentions lots of details, his eye is hardly keen–he has no ability to discriminate between important details that reveal character and meaningless ones that add nothing. “America has changed since September 11, 2001.” Deep stuff.
Since the book’s publication, Barry has gone on to complete a Tour and publish two more books, Le Métier and Fitness Cycling. Without some indication that he’s improved, though, I’m declining to donate more money to the cause. As our former President once said, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”