Thursday, September 1, 2011

Racing through the Dark - David Millar

OMG, another book review?  Yes.  Deal with it.

In the prior posting, I said that I was mildly interested in Robert Penn's "It's All About the Bike", but that I was glad I got it as a gift because I thoroughly enjoyed it.  David Millar's book, on the other hand, I was painfully waiting to get my hands on as soon as I could.  I was fortunate to receive it on the same gift-receiving occasion as Penn's book because my wife, recognizing the signs of addiction, ordered Millar's book direct from the UK in order to get for me.  My guess is that the postage ended up costing more than the book, but it turns out that it was worth every penny if you measure it against the interest, joy and fascination I had with this book.

The short version is that this is David Millar's autobiography.  It starts with Davy as a wee lad, moves through his time in Hong Kong, his early cycling, his early success, his big success, his inexorable path to performance enhancing drugs, the hell he lived through after he was caught, and, not to give away the ending, his redemption.

I suppose this belongs in the pantheon of chamois sniffing books.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, "chamois sniffing" can be one of two things - an obsession with everything bike racing or a slavering attention to pro bike riders.  As a result, it can either be a colorful, albeit disgusting, way to describe one's minute interest in cycling, or a confession of an unhealthy interest in the pros.  In either case, this book is a chamois sniffer of the highest order.

The book is written very much in David Millar's own voice.  I have heard that he wrote it without a ghost writer, and I think that is probably true, as it does dwells on his preciousness at times in a way that probably only D.M. himself can completely appreciate, and it is occasionally uneven, but credit where credit is due - this is a first book by a guy who likes reading and otherwise sweats for a living.  As readers, we get to follow him along on many glorious races, his bouts of doubt and difficulty and his journey to become more of a human that it looked like he could be when he burst into the cycling consciousness.  Obviously the path and process of taking performance enhancing drugs is the overlay to the entire book.  I think that D.M. wants us to understand him so that we can better understand the way that he slid into the drugs bit by bit by bit.  I do think that it is very understandable process and those who act as if it is, and particularly was at this time, a black and white question fail to grasp the full scope of the issue.

After making that decision, D.M. recognizes that he is ultimately doomed and he pays the full and complete price for his decision.  No one can read this book and not see that he may have done the crime, but he has definitely paid his time.  And unlike some riders who are "tranquilo" and then seem to slide seamlessly back into sport, often with the significant assist of their national federations (Spain, Italy, Kazakhstan - I'm looking at you . . . and why is that Belgium, home of the infamous pot belge, never has positive test, ever?), but the Brits, with their stiff upper lips and some long-held disdain for those who chose to leave behind the ideals of amateur athletics, thought that the only responsible thing to do was throw the book at him and hope that he would go away to atone for his sins.  And, even though the evidence is that he was ready to atone before the final penalties were set, he did in fact atone in part by helping to create the argyle armada with Jonathon Vaughters and by writing this book.

Simply stated, I loved this book.  D.M. is an interesting chap and I confess that I have a bit of a man-crush on him.  Of all of the professional cyclists, he is the one I would most like to have a drink or four with and hear a bit more of his story.  That is unlikely to happen, but the hours with this book were the best substitute available.  I understand that the book is not yet for sale outside of the UK, but when it is, get a copy for any cyclist who follows pro cycling.

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