Book Review: Domestique, by Charly Wegelius

It’s not too often I read a book I can’t put down, the last one was ‘A Dog in a Hat’ by Joe Parkin, about an American becoming a Belgian & his experiences of racing in ‘the heartland’. The same happened with Domestique, by Charly Wegelius, I had to keep reading it. I have to say I expected something along similar lines to ‘A Dog in a Hat’ from Charly Wegelius’ book, but in fact, it was much, much more intriguing than Joe Parkin’s story, which is saying something. The Wegelius book is a must-read for any cycling fan, any aspiring racer, or anybody interested in the human psyche, to find what motivations & drives people to extraordinary things, this is special book.

Most of us who started cycling at an age when time was still on our side, dreamed of becoming a professional rider, it looked like an extraordinary thing to do with your life, incredibly rewarding & steeped in the spoils of victory. What we don’t realise at that age, is that we barely know the names of the star riders team-mates, the riders who allow their chosen leader to go for glory, some of whom are just as capable physically of performing at a high level, but for many reasons choose to take a different approach to their profession, they work & suffer incredibly hard for a career as a domestique. The rewards in this chosen path are only realised by people who possess a strong work ethic, we can all relate to this in our work & personal lives, where something you know played a part in was applauded & recognised by others, regardless of anybody’s knowledge of your involvement. This is the life of a domestique, rarely praised, but respected within their profession & valued as an integral part of every team, without dedicated domestiques, the stars wouldn’t shine, and the teams wouldn’t function.

This book opens up that world to the reader, it’s incredibly well written, a collaboration of Wegelius’s experiences & Tom Southam’s ability to take these insights & build them into a compelling story of the real life of pro riders. The book is littered with stories of sacrifices, moral issues, hardship, suffering, more suffering, but mostly suffering. It’s not a book that asks you to feel sorry for Wegelius, quite the opposite in fact. It feels like you follow him through his character development, from boy, to man, to a normally functioning adult outside the world of a professional athlete, it allows the reader to fully understand the transitions between these areas of life, it’s very honest.

We can all relate to Charly’s story, it’s about growing up, about getting to a place in your life where you feel comfortable in your own skin. Bike racing is just his catalyst, but that’s what makes it so interesting, we all have a path. In one way it takes away any regrets you may have about making it as a pro bike rider, you realise that unless you are one of the tiny percentage of chosen winners, it’s not the glamorous life that we imagine it may be. The insights we get into some of those stars, like his positive experiences with Cipollini or Di Luca as team leaders, also make you realise that the stars situation is also not an easy choice, but involves another type of responsibility.

Buy this book, it’s well worth the read, I’ll even read it again.

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