Book Review: Domestique – The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro

 

Domestique

The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro
by Charly Wegelius

Reviewed by Lawrence Bywater

domestique-the-real-life-ups-and-downs-of-a-tour-pro

Pro road cycling is feted for its heroes, its superhuman efforts, its panache filled endeavours and mainly its winners. Yet perhaps what is most captivating about this sport in terms of its individual personalities are the efforts of a band of self-sacrificing, selfless riders who perform the tasks unseen by the uneducated cycling fan. Domestiques. They serve their glorified leaders day in day out; they perform the often thankless tasks of sheltering lead riders from the wind, becoming their waiters with food and bidons and generally being at the beck and call of others. Ultimately they make cycling the team sport that it is so often not credited for. Charles Wegelius was one such domestique who carved out a (successful) career in this role.

His book Domestique: The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, co-written with his partner in ‘crime’ from the 2005 World Championship in Madrid, Tom Southam, is an eye watering expose into the professional peloton in which he inhabited through the 2000’s. The starkest tones of his story show just how much he was willing to sacrifice in order to make it as first an amateur and then a pro. Arguably it was this mentality that made him such a cherished domestique by teams in Europe.

From the first enquiry to his mother to ask whether she could write a letter to his headmaster to allow him to train during sports afternoons at school, to leaving York to join Vendee U in France as an amateur, Wegelius’ passion and drive for the sport jumps from the text on the page and virtually smacks you in the face. His mentality and feelings are laid bare for all to see and arguably what makes this different from the standard Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish story. Ultimately, no other recent cycling autobiography is more revealing. Perhaps only David Millar’s Racing Through The Dark (read our review here) and Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race come close to revealing what it is really like inside professional road cycling and both of those almost entirely focus on the doping aspect of the support. His constant unhappiness and lack of contentment despite success is a telling thread which runs throughout the book. Indeed, insecurities are never far from the forefront of Wegelius’ mind.

Before British Cycling’s track success was replicated on the road with the BC Academy/Team Sky etc, Wegelius had to do what all other British road riders had had to do over the previous few decades to be successful – make a go of it in Europe. The classic stories emerge of ramshackle houses provided by teams, the culture shock of European life, but also the young Wegelius showing how passionate he was about success. A classic example: He asked his then manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau to allow him to race (his French racing license was currently in limbo at the time) at an event – he drove to the event in a team camper, set the bike up himself and travelled without a masseur. To his teammates incredulity he duly won the race. Yet again insecurities arise. Wegelius writes that on winning the Under-23 national Road Race and coming second in the European Time Trial Championships as an amateur he felt “victory wasn’t something special that I felt I should sit back and enjoy.” He actually felt that, “a win was simply another box ticked in what was turning out to be an infinite list of boxes I had to tick to be content.”

His meticulous approach to life as an amateur transcended from keeping his bike clean after every ride, washing it with diesel, to competing with another amateur on who could spend the less on everyday essentials. Yet, Wegelius comes to recognise that, “society’s admiration for athletes is based entirely on the achievement of an ideal.” He realises that the sacrifices he has made to become the athlete he so desperately wanted to be, has made him a difficult person to be around.

Throwing all the personal anecdotes aside the book still fantastically illustrates the idiosyncrasies of the pro peloton. Obviously given his career with Italian teams, Mapei, De Nardi and Liquigas the majority of incites have a distinct flavour to them. Old riders tales such as wearing as much clothing whilst training are very enjoyable and occasions such as the 2005 Vuelta, where temperatures were heading into the 40°C Spanish riders were seen warming up on rollers with woollen hats, leggings and arm warmers are a delight to read. The book finishes with a wonderfully poignant tale which is topped by a realisation that Wegelius had found the truth about being inside the professional peloton: “it’s no f***king fairytale.” Overall, a delight from start to finish; perhaps the only thing missing is a further insight into life on the Giro d’Italia in which Wegelius was so well versed.

CyclingShortsRatingDomestique

CyclingShorts Rating: Star Buy! – 90%

Title:

Domestique – The Real Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro

Author:
Charly Wegelius

Hardback Price: RRP £16.99

Paperback Price: £8.99

Kindle Price: £8.99

ISBN 978-0091950934

Glorious Funding

If you follow the Tour every year, like us, you will have waited a lifetime for a Brit to win it (well if you’re from this small island you have). If you’re Bradley Wiggins, you’ve been training for it all your life. howies wanted to celebrate the amazing win and commissioned a limited edition tee “Sideburns of Glory”, that became their fastest selling tee of all time. I ordered mine and I’ve been wearing it proudly since. It’s a conversation piece. The design is based on the Bayeux Tapestry and it shows “St Bradley of Viggins” wielding his sword while atop a pile of broken riders and bikes.

For the week after the Tour, howies decided to donate the proceeds from their cycling themed t-shirts to the Dave Rayner Fund, raising £5560.

Dave Raynor was an English professional road cyclist from 1987 to 1994, in his career he rode for Dutch (Buckler), British (Interent-Yugo, Raleigh-Banana & Banana Falcon) and American (I.M.E.-Health Share and Lex-Townsend) Pro teams. Dave was a consistent winner of the under 22 Milk Race (now known as the Tour of Britain) which was a favourite of his). He sadly died age 27 in 1994.

After his death a memorial fund established and a fund raising dinner which takes place every year with esteemed guests such as Miguel Indurain, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, and Eddy Merckx attending.

Since 1996, The Dave Rayner Fund have supported hundreds of promising British cyclists. By issuing grants to cover training and racing costs, they bridge the gap into making a successful career from cycle racing in Europe and it’s great the customers of howies have raised such an unexpected sum.

The fund has supported the career progression for the likes of David Millar and Charly Wegelius and receives ongoing support from professional riders, such as Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.

To support the Dave Rayner Fund or find out more please visit their website by clicking here.

Alex from howies says, “There’s going to be loads more British Cycling success on the TV over the next couple of weeks and some great tees to celebrate.”

… and here they are!…

You can choose from “Great Thighs of thunder” (Sir Chris of Hoy), Sweet Chariot (Queen Victoria) and The MMXXII Missile (The Marquis of Cavendish).

To order visit the howies website.

 

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