It’s fair to say I love the sport of cycling – I demonstrate this like others do; I watch races over dodgy internet streams from the Netherlands, I follow everyone important on Twitter, and I read plenty of cycling books. There’s a certain style of cycling book I like, not the ghost written biographies of talented riders, or the long letters of apologies for doping…I like real cycling books, crafted from the passion the writer has for turning the pedals round. It doesn’t matter if they won 100 races, or the Tour de France, it matters that it depicts what being a professional rider is like. I’d loved to have been a professional rider and it’s through these books I get to live the dream…to find out that it isn’t all roses.
If you look long enough there is actually a ton of well written cycling books, not all written with the authors tongue firmly up the…well you get the picture. A Dog In A Hat, written by the ex professional rider, Joe Parkin, is an exceptional cyclists tale. It plots Joe’s rise into the professional ranks and finishes when those days are over (after only a few years). Joe never got to race the Tour de France, or to win Milan-San Remo after a daring attack on the Poggio but he did get to experience professional cycling culture: winning, losing, injury, drugs, contract worries and everything else that comes with it. It’s authentic. Cycling is a tough sport, where suffering is inevitable but the pay check can sometimes be optional. Joe doesn’t beat around the bush, he discusses throwing race wins for cash (as is common place). Perhaps not what dreamers want to know – could it be that certain wins are bought? Yes. It’s a job for professional riders, they do whatever they can to make a living.
Joe made his way into cycling by moving from the USA to Belgium. He was clearly talented and figured his best chance of having a future was to ride where the racing is hardest – to bring him on. In fact you quickly gather that Joe is as much Belgian now, as he is American. Throughout the book you see how he becomes immersed in the culture of this country, a country that is the heartland of cycling. I think some have compared the book to Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage but having read both I don’t think it’s fair to say that. Paul was an outsider looking in, whereas Joe became a cyclist in every sense of the word. Rough Ride is a great book too but in A Dog In A Hat there is more laughs and less bitterness. Once the book finishes you get the sense that Joe wasn’t ashamed to finish professional cycling, he was happy to have lived the dream – to have left his mark. The mark was very small but summed up by his ex director Jose de Cauwer after Joe had left European cycling and his ex team had messed up a race…”What I needed today was my American, Joe – because that one could ride hard”.
What better way to be remembered. Winning isn’t everything. Get the book now.