Guest Article: Le Metier

Guest Article: Le Metier

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The Velominati are proud to present the following guest article by our community member Steampunk, who splits his time between peppering the site with his insight and humor and riding in the sacred Velominati colors.

Michael Barry is one of the great domestiques of the peloton; loyal, hardworking, a hardman, a true cycling aesthete – and an excellent writer. What follows is more than a book review; it is an account of Steampunk’s acquisition of the book, a fine description of the contents, and account of some of the discoveries and revelations it provided to this particular Velominatus.

Thanks, Steampunk, it would appear I need to go order yet another book from Rouleur.

Yours in cycling,

Frank

I have a new prized possession.  A couple of weeks ago, Michael Barry paid a visit to my local coffeeshop.  Because I don’t abide by Rule #11 (more on that another day), I was forced to miss the book signing and short ride, but I was able to arrange for a signed copy of Barry’s new book, Le Métier, to be held for me.  Later that week, I picked it up, and spent that and the following evening poring through it.  It’s taken me some time to absorb the book and situate it within my reading of cycling—both in my standing as a fan of the sport and as an avid cyclist.  It’s a beautifully-produced, hardcover book from Rouleur, rich with numerous stunning photographs by Camille McMillan, most of them from 2008.

Barry’s words aren’t outdone by the lavish photography.  Visit his blog, and you realize very quickly that he is a quietly thoughtful and articulate guy.  This carries through in the book, which is a contemplative and moving account of the daily work of a professional domestique.  The book is divided into four chapters: “Winter,” “Spring,” “Summer,” and “Autumn,” as though to present a year in the life.  But rather than present a blow-by-blow tell-all of his adventures on the Pro Tour, Barry pulls back a little further, bouncing his narrative around a bit to provide not an autobiography but instead a melancholy documentary that is less about himself and more about—as the title indicates—le métier.

Le métier can translate loosely into English as “the job,” but a better translation probably revolves around something like “the trade” or “the craft,” stressing both technique and experience.  In Barry’s hands le métier is also something just this side of an addiction.  He describes in such vivid and painful prose the struggle and agony inherent in professional cycling—the crashes, the hospital rooms, the suffering, the travel, the stress, the exhaustion—that I found myself recoiling in guilt from my eager anticipation for the Spring Classics or the Grand Tours.  By and large, Barry portrays a miserable existence, saved only by the fact that these select few are permitted—blessed—to make a living doing something they love, even if le métier is a far cry from aesthetic and beauty of cycling that drew them to the sport in the first place.  This is the addiction.  The tone and pace of the book are most peaceful when Barry describes his pre-season training rides around his home in Girona, Spain.  In those excerpts, before the frantic training and racing that will follow, he seems at peace and the rhythm of the bicycle provides freedom.  It is, of course, the same machine and the same activity that enslaves him the rest of the year, keeping him from family and milking every last ounce of power and energy from his body and soul.

He concludes the final chapter with the following:

Each cyclist fights an internal battle.  Some fight on the bike because it gives them purpose and simplifies the complexities in life.  Others escape.  Others ride to fill a void.  Others battle childhood disturbances.  Others pedal for fitness or weight loss.  We each have our reasons.

Over the hundreds of thousands of kilometers I’ve ridden, I’ve slowly come to realize why my desire developed and became an obsession.  Without it, I struggle—I am anxious, unfocused, and tense.  Cycling has become spiritual, as it is a passion that I can pursue in the natural environment.  I can pedal away angst, find calm and clarity with the rhythmic motion and freedom.  The commitment gives me focus; the love gives me panache.  Whether it is pedaling to victory or training in the mountains, I find peace.

Michael Barry is basically Jens Voigt, but without the countless sound bytes and cult following.  He is quiet and controlled.  But he knows his job and he does it as well as anyone on the Pro Tour.  He is the quintessential professional: grounded, committed, talented, and loyal (he offers genuine and persuasive portraits outlining the better qualities of former teammates Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish).  He is also as smooth and natural a rider as you’ll likely find in the peloton.  He was born to ride.  But his personal victories are the team victories.  His success is rarely tracked or noticed by cycling enthusiasts, but the massive pull at the front for long kilometres on end to catch a breakaway or to help set up his team’s train or to protect his team leader: this is honorable stuff.

And as the weather here—not far from Barry’s hometown of Toronto—takes a turn from hot summer to cooler and wetter autumn, echoes of Le Métier are evoked in my own riding.  At all levels, good riding involves suffering.  Out on a lonely spin early this morning in the crisp air, I can’t put myself at the head of the peloton pulling for my team leader, but I can appreciate the freedom of the ride, not dissimilar from the moments Barry clearly cherishes.  I can feel the cold air straining my lungs as I climb out of the saddle, and I can begin to appreciate the hook that continually brings Barry back to le métier, no matter the tribulations that the season will hold.  For me, though, this is no professional obligation; it is a recreational activity.  As I settle into a comfortable rhythm along a flat stretch of road, trying to hammer out a steady and high cadence, I take pleasure in the incremental improvements in form and fitness that have accompanied every ride this summer and fall.  These gains are ridiculously modest, but they contribute to molding an ever-evolving relationship between rider and bicycle.  Le Métier is about that conversation between body and machine.  There is an artful beauty in this, too often lost in a day at the office.

Some discoveries and revelations:

  1. I can no longer begin to believe that I can even come close to achieving any modicum of Rule #5.
  2. In the many photographs of Barry training on his own, with David Millar, George Hincapie, and others, I was amazed to see how many rules were blatantly broken; and bikes and riders still looked great.  Of course, by the time you are riding at the professional level, you have transcended any and all rules.  More to the point, you’re providing the inspiration for new rules.
  3. There were no bling wheels on any of the training bikes photographed.  Good, fast, reliable, sturdy: yes.  But nothing that screamed out for attention.
  4. Bikes, too.  Many seemed cobbled together with bits and pieces that had been left over in the shop.  Put another way, though, the style to which the Velominati aspire is very clearly an aspect of professional racing (dominated by sponsors who insist that their product looks good) than as part of the culture of riders themselves, many of whom just want to ride.
  5. The quiet, undiscussed camaraderie among riders, but obvious in the photographs is interesting.  Barry and Millar seem to spend a lot of the off-season training together, even if they then go to war against each other for their respective teams when the season is underway.
  6. Girona looks like a very cool place to live and ride, especially if so many professional riders are in the neighborhood.

// Book Review // Guest Article // The Rules

  1. @Mike_P @Buck Rogers Yep and yep.  And has the brass neck to claim he was actively anti-doping after 2006, when in point of fact he simply continued lying, like so many others who were paying lip-service.  Hope he enjoys googling himself this week.

  2. @andrew

    @Mike_P @Buck Rogers Yep and yep. And has the brass neck to claim he was actively anti-doping after 2006, when in point of fact he simply continued lying, like so many others who were paying lip-service. Hope he enjoys googling himself this week.

    Is googling yourself a bit like “go fuck yourself”?

  3. And the BIGGEST, HUGEST travesty of all of this is he still gets to sleep with Dede Demet every single fuckin night!!!  Truly there is no justice in this world!!!

  4. @Buck Rogers

    And the BIGGEST, HUGEST travesty of all of this is he still gets to sleep with Dede Demet every single fuckin night!!! Truly there is no justice in this world!!!

    Get thee to the cold bath right now!

  5. @Buck Rogers

    And the BIGGEST, HUGEST travesty of all of this is he still gets to sleep with Dede Demet every single fuckin night!!! Truly there is no justice in this world!!!

    Look up Liz Hatch or the Assos Girl… you’ll get over it!

    Actually, using Michael Barry’s logic as displayed in the book excerpt, I’m calling it: As the scenario unfolded, Dede and Michael spoke for much more than a few moments. It was apparent that she was also doping, with other riders left out, their legs strong enough to win but their blood values hampered by the lack of access to US Postal-levels of pharmacology.  She won races, but doping determined the outcome as it does in far too many races, merely adding to the corruption of the sport.

  6. Just curious if any of you read his book? He explains himself pretty well, I thought – just finished it. I took a lot of that stuff with a grain of salt – at least the Boonen bit buying the race; he watched it from a hospital bed and I took it as him just assuming his dickhead teammate sold the race because that was easier for him to palate – not that he had evidence of it.

    The Sky stuff with Tramadol actually makes sense – their stated approach is to do anything within the rules to win, so if its not banned, they could care less. Bringing the behavior to light is a good thing.

  7. @frank

    Just curious if any of you read his book? He explains himself pretty well, I thought – just finished it. I took a lot of that stuff with a grain of salt – at least the Boonen bit buying the race; he watched it from a hospital bed and I took it as him just assuming his dickhead teammate sold the race because that was easier for him to palate – not that he had evidence of it.

    The Sky stuff with Tramadol actually makes sense – their stated approach is to do anything within the rules to win, so if its not banned, they could care less. Bringing the behavior to light is a good thing.

    Not yet.  I have bought and read his other two books (“Le Metier”–which I really liked and still own and “Throwing other Dopers under the Postal Bus” or whatever-the-hell-it-was-called–pretty shitty book and threw it away).  I might wait for the library to buy the new one and then read it–but I will not ask them to and I will not waste money on any more ex-dopers by buying it myself b/c I am soooo sure that no one still dopes in the peloton!!!

  8. @frank

    Just curious if any of you read his book? He explains himself pretty well, I thought – just finished it. I took a lot of that stuff with a grain of salt – at least the Boonen bit buying the race; he watched it from a hospital bed and I took it as him just assuming his dickhead teammate sold the race because that was easier for him to palate – not that he had evidence of it.

    The Sky stuff with Tramadol actually makes sense – their stated approach is to do anything within the rules to win, so if its not banned, they could care less. Bringing the behavior to light is a good thing.

    You know I’m pretty much a babe in the woods here, but I think we’re complaining more about the jerk-off way he’s getting his name into the press.  The interpretation of the fixed race allegation as just sour grapes is pretty generous, from what I can tell — it’s a subjective reading, not what he says.  Again, just going on the excerpt and what you wrote above.

    And it doesn’t seem to me that he’s nobly bringing Tramadol use to light, as this has been done by others with more relevance to today’s racing and racers than stories about 2010 designed to grab headlines.  But I’m glad if the books good, there are just a lot of others I think I’d rather read, or read again.

  9. @frank

    Just curious if any of you read his book? He explains himself pretty well, I thought – just finished it. I took a lot of that stuff with a grain of salt – at least the Boonen bit buying the race; he watched it from a hospital bed and I took it as him just assuming his dickhead teammate sold the race because that was easier for him to palate – not that he had evidence of it.

    The Sky stuff with Tramadol actually makes sense – their stated approach is to do anything within the rules to win, so if its not banned, they could care less. Bringing the behavior to light is a good thing.

    You know we hardly read the articles here, so you expect us to have read a book?

    For me, it just came across as blatant double standards.

  10. @andrew

    Basically, one more guy who cheated to make money from cycling, who then smears the sport and other riders to make more money after retiring/being caught. Far from classy, even if I’ve enjoyed other things of his. (And I stand by the notion that his cheating for a career, cheated others out of their careers.)

    Playing devils advocate, would you prefer the past dopers are not held to account? I agree, it’s classless, but wouldn’t a bit of blood-letting do the sport some good? Sure it may hurt for a bit, but in a years time when all the drama died down it would be a cleaner place?

    That said, doing it with proof, and doing it off some gut feeling are definitely different things, so I guess I can understand if you think it’s just smear campaigning without proof, or self promotion. Just wondering..

  11. @andrew come on, it’s not a question of him “getting his name in the press”. When a book is about to be released, forward copies or excerpts are provided to journo’s & the like so that they can quote sections. Journo’s are naturally going to pick the sections that will generate the most interest & therefore attract readers.

    Having actually read the book cover to cover, I have to second Frank’s comments that he explains himself pretty well the whole way through. The comments about Hoste are his interpretation of the fact that Hoste & Boonen attacked from the group with Hincapie in it & Hoste seemed happy to work with Tommeke rather than spoiling to help his team leader bridge back up…

  12. @Mikael Liddy  et al

    The whole book pretty much just sets the stage for why he started doping, how he justified it, why he lied for so long, and how he felt trapped when he made the decision to stop doping. Excerpts won’t do the job because you need the whole book to understand it. And then you have to decide if you give a shit, or if you believe him, or what.

    His view on tramadol was based on the doctors willingness to give it to riders, but when he pointed the question back and asked if they’d prescribe it under these conditions to their patiences, they balked. Reading it in context it comes across as believable to me, but that’s just an opinion.

    But the bottom line is there is a crazy double standard about trusting dopers who confess, believing cheaters who lie, and everything in the middle. For me, I’m just happy to read an intelligent account of one rider’s journey.

    I’ll also point out that there was a lot of backdraft on David Millar when he refused to name riders and referred to them by a pseudonym – Barry named them, so how does someone win in this? Apart from not doping/lying in the first place, that is.

  13. @frank Dammit, I reserve the right to make sweeping statements based on little knowledge and great ignorance, making a show of applying logic and reason to justify subjective opinions and feelings!  I call it being a sports fan, and I’ve learnt from the best.

    @Mikael Liddy I take your point, and would only add that authors are very aware of this and need to (or are pressured by publishers to) include salacious details which will then dutifully be picked up by hacks desperate for a headline to sell that day’s paper or gain a few more click-throughs.  You, like Frank, write that the race-fixing allegation is his interpretation without first-hand knowledge, so to me it still stinks, as he presents it as fact.  There might be other explanations — selfishness, rashness, team politics, personal dislike, and poor tactics seen with the benefit of hindsight being a few possibilities that come to mind.

  14. @Buck Rogers

    What the fuck’s up with Michael Barry? Maybe trying to drum up some interest/controversy to sell his latest book? I used to like him but really not so much now.

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/hoste-denies-selling-2006-tour-of-flanders-to-boonen#

    So here’s an ex-pro who denied everything until he was offered the choice of fessing up or ending up sharing the soap in the communal showers with a few less than savoury characters, and he’s now making money out of writing books that accuse his former colleagues of “shady tactics and backroom deals”. Wanker.

    This is why, no matter how good people claim the books are, I own’t read books by retired pros. O’Grady, particularly, can get f***ed in as many breaths as I have left, as can the rest of them who doped and wrote about it. I’m not contributing to their retirements, they can all blow goats as far as I’m concerned.

  15. By the way, if anyone actually deserves to sell a few books based on their careers in that era, perhaps it’s David Moncoutié.  My French isn’t spectacular, but I bought his book straight after seeing the Inrng review direct from the (small) publisher.  It came with a hand-written note on a Breton postcard, and no cheap accusations or gratuitous headline-grabbing.

  16. @andrew

    Did DM’s book come in English or French? I’d love to read it but don’t speak French.

    WRT Barry, Hamilton, Hincapie, O’Grady,  et al….what a mess.  So many guys I admired on the bike, in interviews and even in their own written works in Barry’s case…..All just a house of cards.  I still have a copy of Le Metier, just like I still have a copy of Its not about the Bike.  I’ll probably wait a long time before I consider reading Barry’s new book;  its hard not to feel conflicted and cheated.

  17. @andrew

    By the way, if anyone actually deserves to sell a few books based on their careers in that era, perhaps it’s David Moncoutié. My French isn’t spectacular, but I bought his book straight after seeing the Inrng review direct from the (small) publisher. It came with a hand-written note on a Breton postcard, and no cheap accusations or gratuitous headline-grabbing.

    Ohhh MAN, I love the Moncout!  Need to find an English translation as my Frnech is just as good as it was in high school when my dear French teacher, Mademoiselle Leymarie used to shake her head and outright laugh in class when I would speak or read a composition of mine.
    I did not know that he had written a book.

  18. @PT It’s in French, and not with a big publisher, so I doubt it’s in translation.  The French isn’t too complex, so your level needs to be reasonable but doesn’t need to be native.  I brushed up mine a bit by reading parts of Fignon’s book in French after I’d read it in English, but I had some school French to start with.

  19. @andrew

    Thanks for the reply; unfortunately my French is very primitive, not even a high school subject (I went to a very small school in the countryside, no languages) so I’ll just have to park that for a while.  Nevertheless, I too read that review on Inrng and was curious – very pleased to hear of your experience with the purchase and the book. Kind of fits Moncouties overall style really.   Isn’t he the one who is also a vintner? Or was?

  20. @andrew

    @frank Dammit, I reserve the right to make sweeping statements based on little knowledge and great ignorance, making a show of applying logic and reason to justify subjective opinions and feelings! I call it being a sports fan, and I’ve learnt from the best.

    You bring a tear to my eye, mate. I too strive to follow in my own example but I sometimes inexplicably wind up reading something and getting informed.

    But if it puts you at ease, I’ll now use this knowledge gleaned from the book to make sweeping assumptions across a wide range of other subjects involving sport and drugs for years to come – long after its out of date.

    By the way, my dog is on Tramadol. Turned him from a 14 year old dog who could hardly walk into a 6 yo dog jumping off the front steps like he used to. After a year of it, the affect has worn off and if we up the dosage, he becomes a stoned-out idiot. If we drop it, he’s in obvious pain. He’s back to being a 14yo dog with a resistance to the drug and no noticeable benefit. Strikes me as an 80’s drug that gives a benefit on the day but chronic use will have a detriment like ‘roids or amphetamine. Which means a clean rider can compete against them. In the words of Fignon, those drugs didn’t make a champion or break a champion.

  21. @frank

    But the bottom line is there is a crazy double standard about trusting dopers who confess, believing cheaters who lie, and everything in the middle.

    Great summation. It’s like, clear them all out, name and shame. Or don’t do anything. The answer is there is no answer, because you won’t be able to fix it without hurting the sport, and you will be hurting the sport by not fixing it..

  22. @andrew I’m pretty sure that’s why that particular incident was included in the book, it’s in a section where he’s detailing how Disco really struggled without COTHO in place as the undisputed leader (the Ronde in question was the year after he retired) & how in his absence people starting looking to work for their own goals rather than those set out by the team management.

  23. @frank

    @andrew

    @frank Dammit, I reserve the right to make sweeping statements based on little knowledge and great ignorance, making a show of applying logic and reason to justify subjective opinions and feelings! I call it being a sports fan, and I’ve learnt from the best.

    You bring a tear to my eye, mate. I too strive to follow in my own example but I sometimes inexplicably wind up reading something and getting informed.

    But if it puts you at ease, I’ll now use this knowledge gleaned from the book to make sweeping assumptions across a wide range of other subjects involving sport and drugs for years to come – long after its out of date.

    By the way, my dog is on Tramadol. Turned him from a 14 year old dog who could hardly walk into a 6 yo dog jumping off the front steps like he used to. After a year of it, the affect has worn off and if we up the dosage, he becomes a stoned-out idiot. If we drop it, he’s in obvious pain. He’s back to being a 14yo dog with a resistance to the drug and no noticeable benefit. Strikes me as an 80′s drug that gives a benefit on the day but chronic use will have a detriment like ‘roids or amphetamine. Which means a clean rider can compete against them. In the words of Fignon, those drugs didn’t make a champion or break a champion.

    Thats also a difference between a standard small molecule drug and a large molecule biologic like ESA (ethropoetin stimulating agent) or transfusion of packed red cells (PRC).   Because an ESA  is what your body is producing – it’s EPO which you already have – it pretty much never gets old – ie, tolerance doesn’t develop.  At least not as far as I know.  I’m sure you can work out the difference between someone cheating with a drug vs someone cheating biologically as it might play out over the course of a career.

  24. @frank Re your dog on Tramadol. It’s more likely that the underlying disease process has worsened, rather than he’s become resistant to Tramadol, like you say upping the dose is just going to mong him out, so it’s more worthwhile exploring other drug options. Traditional NSAIDs  (eg paracetamol) in combination with Symmetrel (an anti-viral or Parkinson’s treatment!) and Tramadol has shown promise for these kind of cases.

  25. @ped

    @frank Re your dog on Tramadol. It’s more likely that the underlying disease process has worsened, rather than he’s become resistant to Tramadol, like you say upping the dose is just going to mong him out, so it’s more worthwhile exploring other drug options. Traditional NSAIDs (eg paracetamol) in combination with Symmetrel (an anti-viral or Parkinson’s treatment!) and Tramadol has shown promise for these kind of cases.

    Thanks for this advice. We’ve actually had him on a an NSAID for a while and he’s doing great on it. 14.5 and when he gets up the stairs he has crazy eyes. This dog is all Rule V.

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