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

New Year, New Location


I have been a bit lax on the blogging front over the past few weeks. I’ve been busy sorting things out with my new team Rapha Condor Sharp, and also getting some important base training done. I’ve been mainly tackling the cold and usually wet Sussex road by myself. I had a spell of 2-3 weeks where I was doing 4-5 hour spins on a regular basis. I backed off just before Christmas when I was starting to feel tired. I then had an easy week between Christmas and New Year to properly recharge the batteries before tackling the second and final part of the Winter.
Since going up to the Claremont Hospital in Sheffield with the team I have found out that I am deficient in both Iron and Vitamin D. So I am now on the correct supplements to set this right – this highlights how important having a partner like Claremont is to the team. Even more so when one of my team mates broke his collar-bone and he was able to be checked and have surgery within a week of the accident.

Christmas and New Year for me was very relaxed. I stayed at home and enjoyed some good food, some bad telly and some very steady road rides. I’ve also had Camille and Tom Southam – our team photographer and press officer– come down to the house for interviews and photographs. On a second visit I was chasing Camille on his motorbike (hooked up with cameras) around Beachy Head in horrific conditions. Again, the team have been so efficient getting all of this done already! Plus, the press/journalism side is something that also interests me quite a lot.

As I’m writing this I’m sat on a plane with my team-mate Oliver Rossi flying over to Lanzarote for our first team training camp. The rest of the team would have already landed and probably won’t be far from the hotel at this point. I’ve been looking forward to this camp for a while and can’t wait to get out on the road with my new team mates. The Spanish sun and 22+ degrees temperature will also be a nice bonus. I’m not sure yet what the plan is training wise but I’ve heard mention of; race radios, lead out practice and coffee – so I’m a happy boy!

My first race with the team will be the Tour of Taiwan mid-March. The team’s position in the race was looking doubtful but we had a nice surprise a few weeks ago when we received an entry. After doing some research on the race and looking at picture from the past few years it looks like a pretty big event! It’ll be the biggest race I’ll have competed in anyway. There was a prologue TT last year – 2km = 1 lap of the crit course – but it appears to have been removed for this year’s edition, which is a bit of a disappointment, but then again I won’t be short of things to be thinking about with seven stages! There’s a good mix of hard hilly courses, a couple of sprint stages and a 60km crit on the final day. The team has had success in the past few years it has done it, so let’s hope we can replicate it this year.

In other English related news; I got to meet Edith Bowman from BBC Radio 1 whilst we were both working at an event at the Olympic Velodrome! I even got my name mentioned on her next show – this had me very happy for a 24 hours! I also got to meet the ‘voice over guy’ from the X Factor, Pete Dickson. Family wise, my Sister [Kimberley] finished her cross season on Saturday taking a top 10 in the National Cross Championships. She’s been training hard over the past months with the British Cycling Talent Team – there may be some conflicts this year in the household with myself riding for Ireland and my little Sister riding for GB. My Dad is in training for the Wicklow 200 this year. It’s a 200km sportif over some pretty savage terrain. All I know is my Dad was out on the bike this morning at 8am for a planned 100 mile spin!! At least there’s 1 athlete in the house…

I’ll leave it at that for now as my battery is starting to die, and I quite fancy shutting my eyes for 20 minutes before we land. I will do my best to do a couple of updates whilst I’m out in Lanzarote.

 

Thanks for reading, hope you had a good New Year,

Felix
 
 
 
 
 
 

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