Domestique: The True Life Ups and Downs of a Tour Pro, by Charly Wegelius


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The Independent Culture

What would you think about a British sportsman competing for his country who accepted money from a rival team to help them out during a race?

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Outrage mingled with disgust, probably, and Charly Wegelius admits regretting he did just that at cycling's 2005 World Road Race Championships.

But his explanation for his actions does much to reveal the harsh truths of life as a professional rider, to the extent that you end up sympathising with Wegelius as much as condemning.

After a promising amateur career, Wegelius didn't win one race, even one stage, in 11 years as a pro, but then that wasn't his job.

He realised early on that he didn't enjoy the pressures of being a team leader, instead becoming one of the most respected domestiques on the circuit.

His job was indeed that of a servant, as the word signifies in French, fetching and carrying – food, water – for the stars, nursing them up the mountains, attacking or slowing down breakaways depending on the team's needs, all in the cause of someone else's glory.

He took pride in his role, but it came at a cost: "Professional cycling is no fucking fairytale," he snarls. "I started looking at the fans lining the route, cheering us like heroes. The passion for cycling oozed off them, but they couldn't know what it was really like. They didn't see the terrible hotels, the crazy egos or all the shit that goes with great expectations."

Nowhere are expectations higher than in the Tour de France – "bike racing with the volume turned up" as Wegelius describes it. He rode in three out of his total of 14 Grand Tours, and is back this year in his role as directeur sportif of the Garmin-Sharp squad.

He may be pitching it a bit strong when he claims that his account of life in the peloton is "a story about cycling that hasn't been told", but he does tell it better than anyone else before him.

Read it and you will have a far better idea of what's actually going on, behind the scenes as well as on the road, as this year's Tour unfolds.

Published in hardback by Ebury, £16.99