Charlie Wegelius Photo ©: herneweb.com

Book Review: Domestique by Charly Wegelius

Book Review: Domestique by Charly Wegelius

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Who is Charly Wegelius? His name would float to the surface in races usually when the road went up. The Phil and Paul show never seemed to go further than, ‘and there goes Charly Wegelius’. In the pre-Sky days, there were not that many English racers in the Giro yet he seemed shunned by the press. He was just there. He was English yet always seemed to ride on a Italian team. To me he was a bit of a mystery man, maybe Italian, maybe kidnapped as a youth, indoctrinated into the sweet Italian cycling world.

Before we go further here; this is a must-read cycling book. It is a pleasure to read a book about modern cycling that is not a drug exposé. Yes, drugs are discussed but barely. And yes, Mr Wegelius shared a room during a Giro with teammate Danilo “Triple Threat” Di Luca and he saw nothing of Di Luca’s seemingly rampant doping. Charly was a climber on Team Liquigas but states he didn’t dope and moreover had to worry about keeping his naturally high hematocrit below 50%. EPO can’t help you if your hematocrit is already too high. If one needs to categorize, this might sit on the bookshelf next to Michael Barry’s Le Métier but having not read that yet, I can’t compare.

Wegelius grew up in England with his English mother and spent summers in Finland with his Finnish father. Like many British and Irish riders before him, he had to move to France to learn le métier properly. His huge talent landed him on the team of  Vendée U, under Jean-René Bernaudeau, then the best amateur team in France. Eventually he was signed as a professional with Mapei, the best professional team anywhere. Mapei was the ideal, the template for all cycling teams. It was a well-funded team whose owner was a cycling fanatic, staffed by forward thinking cycling fanatics, with an ethos of clean cycling through scientific improvement.

Mapei knew that the doping culture existed, but fixing it wouldn’t come through drug raids at the Giro d’Italia, or throwing the rule-book at stupid individuals who got caught. They wanted to make doping an unacceptable part of their team, and they made a team that was so good that being part of that was enough for riders. We were overpaid, we were looked after better than any other cycling team on the planet, and we were reassured that as long as we toed the line we would be looked after.

At a point he realized he didn’t enjoy the pressure of being the expected winner and leader of a team as much as the rider who dutifully served the team and leader. A domestique who knew the races, understood how each race unfolded, knew his job, did what was asked of him by both the directeur sportif and team leader, he would be a valuable long-term asset. The role of domestique, much more than a water carrier, is revealed nicely in this book.

But the key thing I had to learn was that a domestique has to be almost as strong as his leader, and he must also be smart and aware of what he is doing. Often it is the job of the domestique to make split-second, race defining decisions on all of these things without direction from the team leader or manager. 

The near perfect trajectory of his career took a hit after Mapei folded. Riders are at the mercy of their teams’ financial health and their own recent results. Last minute call-ups and riding while badly injured are expected and unavoidable. He confirms how hard and all-consuming the life of any Pro is. The book follows the undulations of his career; it’s a very well told tale, written for the diehard cycling fan. This is tailored for the Velominati readership; there is a lot of cursing and it is filled with the kind of cycling minutiae we all love.

…I was lying on my bed in the afternoon before the race. Axel had gone down the corridor for his massage and the phone rang. A man’s voice asked if Axel was there, and I said ‘No, he went for a massage.’ The voice replied, ‘Never mind, good luck for tomorrow-tell him his dad called.’ I said , ‘Yeah, no problem,’ and put the phone down before I suddenly realized: Fuck me, that was Eddy Merckx!

It was written with the help of Tom Southam, ex-Pro turned writer and journalist, but Wegelius’ earlier writing while racing shows he is a natural writer. There’s no reason to think this was ghost written. Yes, for all of us without the talent and single mindedness to make a living racing bicycles, this book is a great one to conceivably make us a little relieved we couldn’t.

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// Book Review // The Works

  1. Former US pro Mike Creed has a regular podcast you can download from iTunes on which he sits down and basically just shoots the shit uncensored with various cycling personalities.  He most recent edition was a sit down with Wegelius – I found it really entertaining.  They discuss the book a little, but mostly its just about racing.

  2. Forgive my ignorance, but weren’t The Lion’s juicing years while riding for the adhesive co?

  3. @Beers

    Good question. Museeuw rode the last four years for Farm Frites and Quickstep, two each. His Mapei years were over in 2000. He claimed he just doped his last year. So what does that mean? I don’t really know but hopefully his doping was after Mapei.
    Quickstep-The Other Floor Adhesive Company

  4. @Cyclops

    Is there a chapter on hiding in closets nekkid?

    No! Nothing. He was too damn busy training and racing to be messing aboot with rich married womens.

  5. I liked him when he was racing as well as I like him now. Actually I’ve a short story about Signor Wegelius. During the latest Milano Sanremo (do you remember the awful weather?) I was in Arenzano waiting for the restart of the race, hanging around the Garmin bus I was cold and I was hungry because of the frantic day when Wegelius handed me some M&Ms, wow just in time!

    I met him again at the Giro d’Italia in Sansepolcro but this time without much ado I handed him a small medal of the Madonna del Ghisallo as a thank you for his previous kind gesture. Grazie ancora Charly.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedaleforchetta/8736936900/in/set-72157633465431365

  6. @Pedale.Forchetta

    You are the best. Small kindness to strangers means a lot. Wegelius must be a great DS, level headed and very experienced.

    Thomas Dekker didn’t look as happy to see you…

  7. Just picked this up today from my local book shop, it fair jumped off the shelf. I always admired this man, particularly at a time when the role of the domestique was largely thankless and went without the now ubiquitous  “couldn’t have done it without my team” winner’s soundbite at stage end. In Charlie’s era, the domestique worked for scraps in comparison to today and it  took some time for me  to get my head around the level of suffering endured for so little apparent reward.  I watched Nicholas Roche after today’s Vuelta stage, giving a truely humbled, heartfelt account of the gratitude that he had for the pulls that were done on his behalf by Saxo in the echelons, so much more meaningful coming from a guy more used to burying himself for the benefit of others. Charlie was an English guy with a foreign surname on an Italian team in an unforgettable era of our sport. He made his living as a bike racer, enough said.

    Le Metier set the standard, I found that book incredibly revealing, truly haunting and inspiring, The fact that Michael Barry has since admitted to previous doping has not diminished my admiration for the man, his dedication to the craft nor his survival in a tough, unforgiving sport. His account of a stage win, as a domestique and with the blessing of his team leader is one of the most gripping, illuminating pieces of writing i’ve ever read.

    The pro cyclist doesn’t have the close season to recover, a combination of an ever longer race season,  fear of not reachng the spring in shape and with early form being the catalyst to train during the precious few weeks of family time that come late in the calendar.  “CYCLING IS LIKE BOXING: IT’S NOT A GAME. IT’S A HARD, TERRIBLE, PITILESS SPORT THAT DEMANDS VERY GREAT SACRIFICES. ONE PLAYS FOOTBALL, TENNIS, HOCKEY, BUT ONE DOESN’T PLAY AT CYCLING.” JD Gribauldy

    Judging by Gianni’s review, “Domestique” is going to be a great read. VLV

  8. @Gianni  this is a photo very important to me , despite appearances Thomas Dekker is asking me, in perfect Italian, who won the stage. It was the first time that a pro turned to me to ask something, I felt really part of the race… 

  9. …as a photographer of course…

  10. @Pedale.Forchetta

    I think that’s a great photo, actually. Looks up-close and personal.

    Nice write-up, Gianni. You’re starting to get me interested in reading cycling books. (I’m a sci-fi nut who can’t usually stay interested in nonfiction longer than about 45 minutes…)

  11. @Pedale.Forchetta

    @Gianni this is a photo very important to me , despite appearances Thomas Dekker is asking me, in perfect Italian, who won the stage. It was the first time that a pro turned to me to ask something, I felt really part of the race…

    Nice. That is a much better story than I had assumed. He looks like he is about to say something ugly in Dutch. Like ‘get out of my way, photo!’.

    And your photo of Felice Gimondi, it stops one’s heart for a second, these mythic figures in regular old men’s clothes instead of a wool jersey. These are amazing photos.

  12. @Gianni  I’ve met Felice Gimondi met several times. This particular photo is dedicated to my friend Simon Lamb of ildolore.cc

  13. Back to the book I’ve read it and I liked very much.

  14. @Gianni

    @Beers

    Good question. Museeuw rode the last four years for Farm Frites and Quickstep, two each. His Mapei years were over in 2000. He claimed he just doped his last year. So what does that mean? I don’t really know but hopefully his doping was after Mapei.
    Quickstep-The Other Floor Adhesive Company

    I am glad to be mistaken! Didn’t mean to sully Wegelius at all, or the discussion of the book, sounds like a great read!

  15. @Pedale.Forchetta

    @Gianni this is a photo very important to me , despite appearances Thomas Dekker is asking me, in perfect Italian, who won the stage. It was the first time that a pro turned to me to ask something, I felt really part of the race…

    @Pedale.Forchetta I would really like to see more of your photography.  is your Flickr the best place to look?

  16. @Beers

    No worries. These days it’s so hard to know who is telling the truth, I feel like I should attach a disclaimer when I say, ‘and Wegelius says he never doped’. It is funny that Mapei and Quickstep are kind of in the same business. Very profitable I guess.

  17. Speaking of books and all that, I’d love to know what kind of “believing” these five plaintiffs were doing that caused them incur $5M in damages.

    Cycling News: US Judge Rules Pharmy is Douche But Even Douches Have Free Speech

  18. @frank

    They were “believing” they could get some easy money off the H.M.S. Armstrong before it went under. What about two hours of my life I’ll never get back watching Sharknado! To whom may I address my lawsuit?

  19. @Pedale.Forchetta

    @Gianni I’ve met Felice Gimondi met several times. This particular photo is dedicated to my friend Simon Lamb of ildolore.cc

    When does your book come out, pictures and all ??   That id like to see

  20. @Gianni

    Nice review Gianni, I love reading about the struggles these ‘lesser lights’ have to go through, and I’ll be definitely having a read of this.

    @Cyclops

    Is there a chapter on hiding in closets nekkid?

    No! Nothing. He was too damn busy training and racing to be messing aboot with rich married womens.

    At least ‘God’ didn’t ruin his life…

  21. Nice review Gianni. Now off to the book store………

  22. @Gianni

    @frank

    They were “believing” they could get some easy money off the H.M.S. Armstrong before it went under. What about two hours of my life I’ll never get back watching Sharknado! To whom may I address my lawsuit?

    You watched that? I hope not AFTER you’d watched the preview or in fact knew anything about the film, including its name!

  23. @brett

    At least ‘God’ didn’t ruin his life…

    ‘God’ is a bitch.

    @Puffy

    I may be insane, but not that insane. I was captivated by the title but never actually bothered to see it.

  24. @kixsand yes it is!

  25. @Barracuda ahah! Thank you!

  26. @Gianni

    @Beers

    No worries. These days it’s so hard to know who is telling the truth, I feel like I should attach a disclaimer when I say, ‘and Wegelius says he never doped’. It is funny that Mapei and Quickstep are kind of in the same business. Very profitable I guess.

    It’s funny how people interpret things differently – my take on Wegelius’ opening to the book was that he made a tacit admission to being fully aware of doping, if not having doped himself. But his book was not going to address it…

  27. @Marcus

    Yeah, I should reread that as he did say he wasn’t going to get into the doping discussion and I thought he was saying that because he never got involved. He certainly was riding during the worst of it. Having a high hematocrit does take the fun out of (epo) doping though.

  28. My problem with reading cycling books is that I have this subliminal fear that there aren’t enough of them out there, so I read the first 2/3s in two days, then drag out the rest for a few weeks. I am currently doing this with the Merckx book, too scared to finish.

    Nice review, Gianni! I’ll make sure to run this by my local librarian so they can put it on their purchase list.

    Yup, that cartoon hand is great, maybe it’s pointing at the MickeyD logo on his right sleeve.

  29. Gianni, thanks for the great review.  I searched for domestique on Amazon, and the second in the list was ‘The Rules’.  Awesome!

  30. It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks and I’m hoping this book and the Rules are heading my way in some nice wrapping paper.

    Always admired CW. A true pro’s pro. Always seemed smarter than the average rider and a glasses wearer to boot.

  31. It’s sad but true that Wegelius was the ignored man of British cycling, by the press at least.  In the last few seasons of his career, with Wiggins, Cav, D Millar etc riding the grand tours he’d still hardly get a mention. A great shame.

  32. @Puffy

    @Gianni

    @frank

    They were “believing” they could get some easy money off the H.M.S. Armstrong before it went under. What about two hours of my life I’ll never get back watching Sharknado! To whom may I address my lawsuit?

    You watched that? I hope not AFTER you’d watched the preview or in fact knew anything about the film, including its name!

    I recorded and watched it last week.  Hilariously bad.  Did not watch Two-headed Shark Attack

  33. @Gianni

    @frank

    They were “believing” they could get some easy money off the H.M.S. Armstrong before it went under. What about two hours of my life I’ll never get back watching Sharknado! To whom may I address my lawsuit?

    DUDE. HE CUT A SHARK IN HALF WITH A CHAINSAW!! WHAT ISN’T TO LOVE ABOUT THAT?

  34. OMG, Sharknado? Really? I thought you guys had class, but apparently I was wrong. ;-) Cyclofreaks.

  35. @Xyverz Says the guy using emoticons.

  36. I think the best use of Sharknado would be to develop some kind of drinking game around it. If yyou drink every time you see a shark, I think it might lessen the pain of watching such a colossal pile of shite.

  37. @Gianni Great review. It is now on The List!

    @Pedale.Forchetta I need a photographer to do some gratis work on our Facebook, web site, and for some brochures. In Canada anytime soon? So well done!

  38. @Pedale.Forchetta

    @Gianni I’ve met Felice Gimondi met several times. This particular photo is dedicated to my friend Simon Lamb of ildolore.cc

    I’m glad Simon and you are friends. His website is the very best, I spend a lot of time there. He tried to help me identify an old photograph we wanted to use for The Rules book. He could figure out the racer and race but not the photographer…but we used it anyway. But don’t tell anyone.

  39. @frank

    @Gianni
    Forget Sharknado and two headed sharks (the latter was a superior offering IMO), in 1984 Australians made a horror movie about a feral pig killing people and generally wreaking havoc in the outback.

    RAZORBACK

    It also contained a featurette entitled “Jaws on Trotters”.

    Probably the best Australian film offering alongside Bad Boy Bubby.

  40. @frank you forgot to mention that he also rescues a chick who fell out a helicoptor into a shark’s mouth. Personally, I thought it a fine example of the genre. Now Piranha DD, next on my list I am fully expecting to tick the one box, Sharknado didn’t…

  41. Sharknado made an AMAZING drinking game with the VMH. Simply AMAZING.

  42. Shall add this to the queue, Sex, Lies & Handlebar Tape is next on the list.

  43. @Mikael Liddy You’ll enjoy it for sure. Maitre Jacques was quite the man and were he alive today, his off-the-bike activities would be tabloid fodder. It’s a shame that it’s so hard to make decent cycling movies as Coppi, Bartali and Anquetil all offer up such amazing tales.

  44. Through the wonders of Amazon, I read this a few weeks back while on holiday.

    It’s a great insight to the world of the guys who don’t make the headlines, but who sacrifice their chances for a paycheck.

    It’s also an insight into how a humans priorities change over time. As Charlie “grew up” different things came to be important.

    It was also interesting to see his take on selling his Olympic ride to help the Italians he regarded as more compatriot than the English.

    Great read.

  45. I am getting this book. I can’t stand sprinters and the way they get way too much talk, I would be happy with no sprint finishes…except a sprint finish that is about 1+km of 3+ grade climbing. I get sick of hearing about riders who never face an open head wind up until the final 200m on flat land. Even GC riders who just sit in the pack and keep there time drive me nuts. That’s why I like time bonuses, race to the finish cause….it’s a race! I know GC contenders have to be good TT folk but I want to see these guys attacking, not just sitting in the confines of the draft. Domestiques are getting infront and killing it for 100+km while someone else gets all the glory at the end, they are the real rides, they are the real hard men and deserve alot more recognition. Can’t wait to read.

  46. I bought two cycling books last week – Sean Kelly’s The Hunger and Charlie Wegelius’ Domestiique.

    Of the two I would say Wegelius is by far the best book for the real cycling fan – the person who wants to know what life is like as a pro rider, what goes on in the peleton, how teams work (or don’t work).

    He is very good at self-assessment, there are moments of anger, humour and everything that makes up life in any line of work.

    Kelly’s book on the other hand I found strangely empty, somewhat ironic given the title. I was hungry to find out about the life and motivation of such a great rider but left without feeling I had got far beyond what I already knew or could work out – it lacks humour and personality.

    The major part of the book is divided into key races and he outlines what went on to win or lose the stage/race. That’s not uninteresting but it’s a bit like reading an autobiography of Leonardo Da Vinci to find out how he mixed his paint and where he bought his canvas, rather than how he got the Mona Lisa to smile.

  47. This podcast includes an interview with Tom Southam about this very book. It’s good!

    https://audioboo.fm/boos/1562797-vuelta-preview-23-august-2013

  48. @Wiscot

    Hard to make cycling movies? You should check out Quicksilver.

    Probably the finest cycle based movie ever. Iteven includes 80’s style soft focus bike related ballet-porn.

    Awesome

  49. I want it known that I comprehended the concerns
    you experienced for me. You can use either the stylus or the keypad buttons to manage battles in Pokemon Platinum DS.
    But don’t just talk about it; get out and make
    some thing happen.

  50. I got this one for Merckxmas and I tore through it in about a day and a half. Very enjoyable reading and great insight into the role of the domestique and the working environment in the peloton generally. I liked it a lot. It also has a couple of good Cipo stories and a sad one about Pantani.

     

    I did find it amusing that the only bike that he talks about at all throughout the book is a Specialized “prototype” that was so incredibly floppy the chain fell off the big ring. He must have really hated that bike to decide it merited a mention at all.

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