The job of the book reviewer is to provide enough information about a book so the reader can decide if they want to read it. With that in mind, I should start by introducing the author of “Draft Animals” (Note: The full title of this book is Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While)).
If you’re an avid fan of professional cycling, you may have heard of Phil Gaimon; however, if you’re a part-time fan of pro cycling or if you don’t follow cycling at all, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of him. He’s never won (or even entered) a Grand Tour event (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a Espana). He’s never won a World or National Championship. His biggest career wins are likely the 2012 and 2015 Redlands Cycling Classic – a five-day stage race in California. This is a feature race for pro cyclists on Continental teams (Continental teams feature the best riders in North America that aren’t on World Tour teams. Think of the World Tour as the big leagues, or the “show”). Gaimon raced with a World Tour team (Garmin-Sharp) in 2014 before coming back to North America for 2015 on a Continental team. His last year as a pro was 2016 with Cannondale, a World Tour Team.
By now, you’re probably asking… “Why has this guy written a book if he’s such a ‘nobody’ in pro cycling?”. My reponse starts with: Oh this is his third book! But there’s a lot more to it than that…
I first heard the name “Phil Gaimon” a few years ago when my cycling co-worker Gaelen raced against Phil in the 2015 Tour de Beauce, a five-stage race in Quebec. I heard Phil’s name pop up a few more times since then, mostly from Gaelen. When Phil’s latest book came out, I decided to read it. Although I’m not as avid a cycling fan as Gaelen, I know enough about the sport that Gaelen and I can bore our work colleagues with our endless talk about whichever pro cycling event happens to be running on a given day/week.
On to the book…
What I like about Phil’s writing style is it’s like you’re sitting at a bar (or at a bakery/cafe eating cookies) with him and he’s telling stories about training with Tom Danielson or riding the team bus with Ryder Hesjedel (both admitted dopers). He writes about what it was like to be in the “show”. But he seldom pulls any punches. He speaks frankly about doping in the sport and he’s very vocal about racing without performance enhancing drugs. He even sports a tattoo of the word “CLEAN” on his arm that appears when he raises is arm on a podium. Through Phil’s eyes, the life of a pro cyclist isn’t as glamorous as we might think (unless you’re reached the pinnacle of the sport).
He’s voice in the book is very frank. So much so that I imagine there are pro cyclists who hate the guy. But it’s Gaimon’s candid prose that makes the book accessible. He talks openly about how hard it is to train to become a pro cyclist and to make it to the “show”. He calls out pros who doped. He also has no problem naming people he thinks are jerks. He also mentions fellow cyclists he respects (you’ll have to read the book to get these names).
I recommend this book to any fan of cycling. Gaimon gives me hope that the sport isn’t just about doping. Behind the scenes, there are hard-working, honest athletes who are just trying to make a living.
Oh… and cookies!