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Draft Animals by Phil Gaimon book review

1 Dec 2017

An enjoyable read from a guy who is just honest

Cyclist Rating: 
An easy read that had me laughing and crying
I wanted more

When Phil Gaimon released his book Draft Animals earlier this month, it made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Journalists, including myself, decided to focus on one particular paragraph in this 352-page book.

The 'wrong reason' wasn't that Gaimon should not have said this comment, but more that this one paragraph has threatened to detract from what is a very well-written and honest account of being a professional cyclist.

Professional cyclists are often pleaded with for honesty and Gaimon does this. If he has an opinion, he says it regardless of whether it will upset someone or not.

At the end of the book, Gaimon had changed my opinion on what I thought it was like to be a professional rider and he had done so in an eloquent and engaging way.

Cancellara controversy

Let's start with the elephant in the room. It comes on page 120 and only lasts 11 lines. Gaimon makes a throwaway comment about Fabian Cancellara, expressing his opinion regarding allegations that the Swiss rider used a motor during his career.

It has proven to be the focal point of the book and its a shame because Gaimon is just telling us what he thinks, and he does that a lot throughout the book.

The book takes you from Gaimon's struggle to become a WorldTour rider, to his struggle once he had reached the WorldTour and then the struggle of being dropped from the WorldTour.

He talks about the difficulties faced by young, aspirational American cyclists and the lack of support they now faced as the USA still battles with its Armstrong past.

He also tells of the struggles of being financially stable while chasing the dream of a WorldTour contract.

Staying solvent

The economic hardship did not finish when Gaimon managed to secure his contract with Garmin Sharp.

Offered the minimum wage for a WorldTour rider, $50,000, in his first season, Gaimon also recalls the anger of team director Jonathan Vaughters offering him $5,000 less than what they had agreed when it came to his second crack at the WorldTour.

The love-hate relationship between Gaimon and Vaughters is one of many friendships explained throughout the book. There is a clear sense of respect and gratitude towards Vaughters for the opportunity but clear bitterness at the way he was treated.

The relationship between Gaimon and former teammate Tom Danielson is also key. For a man with a 'CLEAN' tattoo, the irony is not lost that Danielson, a convicted doper, becomes Gaimon's route into Garmin-Sharp and his mentor.

When Danielson tests positive for a second time in 2015, Gaimon is open about the struggle he faced forgiving his friend.

There is plenty of bemoaning at things we often know is shared by pro cyclists but often not spoken about honestly such as being forced into riding in dangerous conditions or the expectation to ride when clearly injured.

It also seems that if in any point during his career you got on the wrong side of Gaimon, he was going to let you know in this book. Not that this is a bad thing.

Funny tales

Besides the complaints, light relief is provided through funny tales of Gaimon's experiences with friends and fellow pros Alex Howes, Dan Martin and Lachlan Morton to name but a few as well as racist masseurs and overly forceful Belgian fans.

The light relief is also provided by Gaimon's genuinely funny writing style.

This was not a ghostwritten book, as Gaimon like to tell you, and its clear to see there is a talent for making a readable book.

It flows just as well as something written by an actually writer and Gaimon gets you laughing and crying at just the right times.

When the autobiography of a cyclist comes out, I usually get excited, read the book and then become annoyed at how beige the entire thing had been.

Rider trains really hard. Rider goes and wins big race. Yet, with Gaimon you are given an honest account of what professional cycling is like for what can be assumed is the majority of the peloton.

It's not this glitzy and glamorous showpiece that it sometimes appears. Yes, he gets to live the dream by being paid to ride his bike around the world.

Gaimon finishes his book telling the reader 'I'm glad I played it safe, but I won't tell you to do the same'. This line sums up the entire book.

Gaimon followed his dreams, he made it come true and it wasn't quite what he expected.

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