Rough read

September 25, 2012 § 33 Comments

I hate to say it, but “Rough Ride” by Paul Kimmage isn’t a particularly well written book. It’s rough, slogging, workmanlike prose, stuff you have to pound your way through with a fair amount of effort and an even fairer grasp of the subject he’s writing about in order to appreciate.

As a domestique, that makes sense. He was a rough, slogging, workmanlike rider who fetched, carried, chased, and did his labors before falling off the pace and letting the leaders go about their business of winning races and glory. Raised his whole life to race bikes, it’s a bit unfair to expect that he’d be a master storyteller as well.

Some books, though, make their mark not because of the stylish turn of phrase, but because they write about the raw, bleeding chunks of hard-to-digest truth. In 2012, Kimmage’s treatment of doping in the peloton reads like a tame little bedtime tale, but at the time it sent cracks and shudders down into the bedrock foundations of the sport. Kimmage talked about drugs and he admitted to being a doper.

The truth hurts

In Kimmage’s case, the person who mostly got hurt by the truth was him. Icons like Stephen Roche, and compatriots like Pat McQuaid let it be known that they considered him a liar and a loser and a cheat. Kimmage, so the blowback went, took drugs because he didn’t have the ability to compete fairly with legitimate athletes. He was a whiner who learned that the toughest of sports had no room for quitters and cheaters like him. He became a pariah of sorts among the pro peloton, and ultimately the bane of the UCI and Lance.

In his methodical, plodding, workmanlike, dogged, domestique fashion, Kimmage refused to back down from his allegations of drugs and cheating in this dirty and crooked sport. While fanboy rags like Bicycling and VeloNews continued to praise the miracles of the drug cheats, Kimmage, along with David Walsh and a handful of others, relentlessly spoke truth–if not to power, at least to the stooges running the show.

When Floyd Landis burst the dam, Kimmage took the opportunity to hear Landis confirm what had long been suspected by those who followed pro cycling. A conspiracy had existed to cover up positive drug tests; the highest levels of the UCI were complicit; pro cycling was a meat market of drugs, cheats, and lies.

Why I hate cycling causes

I care zip what happens to pro cycling, to the UCI, or to the people/businesses/manufacturers/media who believe it’s their job to promote and publicize a crooked sport without trying to clean it up. The world has so many real problems that matter, and pro cycling is such a niche within a crevice inside a microcosm that the shenanigans of a few weasels is largely meaningless.

Clean up pro cycling? I’d be better served cleaning up my room.

Likewise, Kimmage of all people knew what he was getting into when he chose to continue his career as a cycling journalist. He could have returned to Ireland and done something else…anything else.

Instead, he chose to be the gadfly, to reveal the corruption, and to keep stinging even when the fat and powerful slow-moving hand came swinging his way. That he’s now getting squashed is exactly what anyone could have predicted. You swim in the septic tank, you’re gonna bump into turds.

Why we have an obligation to help him

Kimmage has now been sued by Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen in a vindictive lawsuit designed to punish him for vigorously pursuing the truth. RKP and Charles Pelkey lay out the hideousness of it in brutal detail.

Whether it’s good for cycling or bad for cycling; whether the UCI have cycling’s best interests at heart are or its worst; whether Kimmage is a dope or a great journalist; whether cycling is an important sport or a weird fetish; whether you like Kimmage’s prose or think it sucks…whether any of these things and more, we have a duty to help this guy out for a very simple reason:

No person, for pursuing any truth in any sphere in any degree, should be persecuted for that pursuit without those who believe in freedom of speech coming to his aid.

The lead has been taken by people who believe in cycling (I don’t) and who believe in free speech. Cyclismas, NYVelocity…people who write and think and promote and criticize and agitate about bikes for a living have said that if Kimmage gets the shaft, he won’t get it standing alone.

This isn’t about cycling. It’s about whether or not you’ll defend free speech with the vigor that you claim to respect it.

To me, Kimmage’s fight is worth $25.00 in this first round. If everyone who professes to believe in the free pursuit of truth also thought it was worth twenty-five bucks, Kimmage would be able to buy the entire UCI and every pro team with the proceeds of his defense fund. For those who think a few bucks don’t matter, you’re wrong. Kimmage has been empowered as a result. He’s gone from glumly contemplating a default to actively thinking of a legitimate legal game plan.

Maybe he’ll quit and go home without contesting the suit, but it won’t be for lack of moral or financial support. Maybe he’ll pick up the lance and run it through the nutsacks of Verbruggen and McQuaid, shriveled and hidden though they may be. Maybe he’ll fight and lose, but do justice to free speech in the process. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll fight and win and buy his first celebratory beer with the $5 you donated.

You want a fucking legacy? That’s a legacy.

Chip in here.

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§ 33 Responses to Rough read

  • pickled radish says:

    Ironic that the one cycling crazy blogger who professes not to care a lick about cycling (pro) convinces me to donate to it’s hopeful retribution. Magical.

  • joe notarnicola says:

    agreed – you have motivated me to give – good job

  • Darwin says:

    I read this book years ago when it came out years ago. So I don’t remember how good or the bad the writing was but I do remember this passage;
    “Lemond was in trouble. He had a bout of diarrhea. He rode by me with thirty kilometers to go, surrounded by his domestiques bringing him to the front. God the smell was terrible. It was rolling down his legs. I know if it was me I would stop. But then I am not capable of winning the Tour de France. He is, and I suppose that’s the difference.”
    — Paul Kimmage

    • Admin says:

      The book has some great passages. That’s certainly one of them! It’s also an excellent view into the brutality of the pro peloton.

  • derek adams says:

    man, even living as far away as possible (psychogeographically speaking, at least) from Palos Verdes – in dublin, ireland – i just plum love this blog. my chapeau is flung ceiling-ward upon reading every single paragraph. (i’m never without an indoor chapeau, except when i’m picking it back up off the floor or wrestling it from the pooch). surprisingly, and much to your credit, the parochial stuff entertains me as much as your, ahem, tours de horizon. anyhoo…

    man it sucks to have a compatriot at the ‘heart’ of all that’s wrong in pro-cycling. at least the white knight du jour happens also to be a paddy. BTW, you’re not wrong in your literary evaluation of RR. Pretty much all that remains in my memory is 1) drugs play a large part in pro-cycling 2) cycling is hard, too hard for PK

    • Admin says:

      You’d think that of all people, Pat would know not to back an Irishman into a corner and tell him that all he has to do to get out is to quit telling the truth. Maybe he’s spent so much time in Switzerland he’s forgotten that this is the nation that produced people like Shackleton, men born without the quitting gene.

      Thanks for the props!

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for the easy read. Summed it up better than I could. I’m in.

  • Ralph Hartman says:

    I was in on the first day but glad to see you’re helping get the word out.

    • Admin says:

      I dragged my feet. At first I was afraid it might be another Floyd Fairness Fund type deal, i.e. let’s help out the poor cycling victim, but my opinion was quickly changed once I read Charles Pelkey’s analysis in RKP. The swelling donations also had a bandwagon effect. Hey, what can I say? I’m a sheep, too.

      • Ralph Hartman says:

        I never got into the Floyd defense. By that time all the stuff that had come out about Lance and the other top rung GC riders had convinced me that they all were doping. I ran across Mr. Kimmage’s writing a few years ago so it was no question to me. Perhaps too much reading of the clinic on CN gets me going too… I painfully admit I followed LA during his early tour success but the one thing that truly turned me from Lance was his comments thanking Hincappie for his loyal support after a TDF win and pledging to ride for him in the following Paris Roubaix. The SOB never showed but he revealed his true self centered colors.

        I think I am the sheep rather than you. You don’t give a flying fuck for pro cycling but I watch all the classics, Giro, TDF and Vuelta. All the while I’m yapping at the TV yelling that they’re all a bunch of dopers, postal train 2, etc. Of course I only race ‘cross so I know where I am on your intelligence totem.

        Be well and keep writing!

  • Kelly Steele says:

    Here is Lance being an ass to Paul Kimmage at a Tour of California press conference. Lance is giving the “I’m saving the world from cancer” speech, but won’t confirm whether or not he’s a cheater.

  • Gav says:

    Totally disagree with your views on Kimmage the writer. The autobiographies of Tony Cascarino and Matt Hampson are amongst the best sports biogs ever in the UK. He has an uncanny knack of putting across the psyche of the subject – whether it be in book form, or via one of his interviews.

    That said, this is a great article you have written, dripping with common sense. I’ve donated. Again. Your fault.

    • Admin says:

      I reserve the right to be wrong about everything, especially literary criticism. I’ve never read any of his other books, but will do so on your recommendation–thanks. Regardless of the opinions of this two-bit blog, Kimmage is a force, “Rough Ride” is one of the most important books ever written on cycling, and this is one of those deals that matters. Good for you for stepping up. You’re not necessarily in good company, but you’re officially allied with those who think bullying, predatory, vindictive lawsuits to stifle the pursuit of the truth are wrong.

  • Raf says:

    Beautifully put. And – yes – I’m firmly persuaded that I can afford that tenner now. I can spare less than most, but I can do that.

  • Came across the ” Defence Fund ” at it’s outset and asked for info to add the ” chip in ” as i had done in my blogs , last year for Charles P. ! So far no one has emailed the link needed !

    Thrilled that the ” fund ” is racking up so much interest and was available in the Sunday Times , sports section , last Sunday , least they could do for their ex colleague !

    @inrng posted an explanation of the procedure needed to elect at UCI , so my reading of that process , is that we are stuck with the pompous prat of Aigle ! ONLY the Cycling Fans doing as they are doing with the “ defence fund “ will show those who elect at UCI , what they must do in the next election , jettison the phat , and rewrite their constitution , so that they and we , do not have to endure another debacle such as has lasted two decades too long !

    Looking forward to more of your interesting work !

    • Admin says:

      Thanks! I wondered whether or not Kimmage’s employment agreement with the Sunday Times indemnified him for such lawsuits. Publishing contracts often include such indemnification clauses.

  • R. White says:

    Seth, Thanks for reminding us what this is really all about. I’m generally not one for causes, but I’m in on this one. $25 to support the search for truth. I’d rather not be blinded by those who would just as soon cut off my ears as well.

  • I don’t think Verbuggen and McQuaid have even a tiny chance of winning their suit as clearly they have acted in support of dopers and doping practices… ASO was also an accomplice, in letting LA win the TDF, they secured NIKE as a sponsor and were able to sell the TV rights in the US for a lot of cash. ASO is all about making money, the sport is secundary at best. Where can I read more about this? Maybe Ralph will join us in March/April if he has any cash left after donating?

  • P says:

    2012 British Sports Book Awards
    Paul Kimmage won the best biography of the year award for ‘Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson’ in a strong field that included Ronald Reng’s ‘A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke’ and David Millar’s ‘Racing Through The Dark’

    Not bad for someone who can’t write 🙂

    • Admin says:

      He’s apparently got some strong stuff out there, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the heads up.

  • […] “Born to Ride” : CyclingShorts.Tuesdays with Wilcockson: Doping on my mind, Part IIIRough read .set-header:after{ background-image: […]

  • Jody Prummer says:

    I had a bit of a hard time with the book the first time I read it.The book seemed a bit self-serving and bitter. It was about eight years ago. I read it again this summer and loved it. I think my perception of the sport was different then. You are right about one of the most important cycling books. I gave to the fund when it was under $8000. Good to see it growing.

    • Admin says:

      It shows, if nothing else, how little regard people have for the UCI and how much regard they have for him.

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