Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Joe Parkin: A Dog in a Hat

Without doing a full review, I want to recommend Joe Parkin's 2008 memoir A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer's Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium.

It is an honest description by Parkin of his life as a domestique in the professional peloton in Europe in the 80s and 90s. It mentions everything from the deathly serious (one of his teammates died suddenly in his sleep) to the utterly ridiculous (a teammate, seeking drugs to help him in a race was given valium by another rider--after struggling through the race, the rider still came up and asked for more of the special drug before the next race). Parkin traces his own struggles to make a place for himself, his love of the Belgian culture, his hatred for certain directeurs sportifs, his admiration for certain riders, etc., etc.

Simply put, it is a fun read that I highly recommend.

1 comment:

Ophir Sefiha said...

I read this book a while back and also found it really enjoyable, esp for those interested in the cultural nuances that exist in each sport.
Cycling is particularity abstract and Parkin does a good job detailing and situating cycling's nuances within broader Belgian/Flemish culture. We get to see why Belgians are so crazy about bike racing and why racers are held in such high esteem.

One should remember that European pro racing was very different back then. Cycling was far more provincial w/ fewer foreigners in the international peloton.Parkin's experiences are particularly insightful b/c he truly immersed himself in Flemish culture living w/ a local family and racing on Belgian teams.
His bike racing life abroad was a far cry from the Armstrong's, Hincapie's, and other guys who raced in Europe on the National Team. As today, kids going over there w/ the Ntl team typically spend a few months (often less) living in the USA team house and rarely get to interact with the locals. Their activities are tightly controlled and offer few opportunities to experience the larger culture that is Belgian cycling.
I'm stoked that Parkin's book has come out and I hope it prompts people to take a more nuanced view of bike racing, drug use and professional sport in general.