I just finished reading "A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer's Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium" by Joe Parkin. Good friend SDC gave me this book a while back and I'd been saving it for winter reading. If you race bikes, wonder what it's like, or wanna spend some vicarious time in Belgium while staying comfy by the fire, you'll enjoy this book.
The subtitle really says it all. Unlike classics like "The Rider," Parkin's account reads more like what you'd hear sitting around the bike shop listening to the local hero. Except this hero isn't local, and his experience is unlike anything you've heard before. The story of Belgian bike racing is much more than Paris-Roubaix or any of the other spring classics. It's workaday, gritty, and there's very little glamour.
But there are drugs. Parkin gets to page 13 before he gets to them, but they're there. Sadly and inevitably.
But not surprisingly. What surprised me most - though it probably shouldn't have - was how much of a grind pro bike racing can be. If you're not on a well-known (and well-funded) team, you're relegated to an endless cycle (if you'll pardon the pun) of kermises and small stage races. You discover very quickly that you race because you love to ride your bike fast and see what your body is capable of. You don't do it to get rich or famous.
Like the real thing, if you read this book, you won't get soaring platitudes or much to inspire or motivate you. But you will get a very realistic, up close and personal diary of an American bike racer in Europe. If you're like me, you'll figure that that's as close to pro racing as you need to get.