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Paul Kimmage is an award-winning sports journalist who writes for the Sunday Times newspaper in the United Kingdom. Born in Dublin, he is a former professional cyclist who competed in the 1980s - alongside compatriots Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley. In "Rough Ride", Kimmage looks back on his life on the bike - he touches on his amateur years, though he focuses more on his time as a professional. While the move into professional cycling was a dream come true for Kimmage, the reality of professional cycling wasn't quite the dream he had hoped for : never mind the physical and psychological difficulties associated with the sport, cycling had a widespread drugs problem.
The 1980s were great times for Irish cycling - Sean Kelly was successful from one end of the decade to the other, while Stephen Roche won the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the World Championships in 1987. Kimmage, however, was a domestique and never won a race. He entered the professional ranks with RMO in 1986, before moving to Fagor-MBK in 1989 - where he rode alongside Stephen Roche until the Tour de France. He abandoned that race and - despite having intended to quit at the end of that season - he never rode professionally again.
Kimmage was one of four new pros taken on by RMO in 1986 - however, as one of the few non-French riders, it was initially difficult for him to integrate into the team. Nevertheless, Andre 'Dede' Chappuis quickly became a friend - as, in time, did Jean Claude Colotti and Thierry Claveyrolat. As an amateur, Kimmage had heard rumours about the drug-taking in the professional ranks. However, he was determined to stay clean - even, initially, refusing to take the vitamin shots. (The shots were injected and, in Kimmage's mind, syringes meant doping. Nine stages of the 1986 Tour de France changed his mind : he wouldn't have been capable of starting stage 10 without a shot of Vitamin B12). So far as I know, vitamin shots don't count as doping - I may be wrong - but they certainly would certainly appear innocent enough to the man in the street. Similarly, caffeine tablets also sound reasonably innocent - however, they would return a positive test. Nevertheless, they were quite commonly used - taken early enough in the stage, the caffeine would've been out of the system by the time the cyclist reached doping control.
However, things in cycling went far beyond vitamins and caffeine tablets. Kimmage remembers arriving at a race in his early days carrying a briefcase, something that caused a bit of a slagging from the other riders. It was only later that he discovered many other cyclists carried pills and syringes in theirs - while Kimmage himself was only carrying his passport and a few letters. Since not every race tested for drugs, cyclists knew which races they could 'charge up' for safely. While it was never openly encouraged by the management, they were occasionally reminded of their duty as professionals - especially when there were world ranking points at stake. It wasn't uncommon for syringes full of amphetamines to be used, not only in these races but also in Criteriums. EPO, of course, only arrived in the 1990s - but Kimmage also touches on it in the second edition.
"Rough Ride" was first published in 1990 and, while he wasn't expecting it to be universally welcomed, he wasn't expecting the reception the book received. His friendships with Sean Kelly and Martin Earley survived - both are thanked for their support following the book's first publishing - though Thierry Claveyrolat and Jean-Claude Colotti weren't quite so understanding. Worse, things worked out terribly with Stephen Roche. It's clear from reading the book that Kimmage idolised Roche and that riding alongside him at Fagor was a dream come true. Roche, however, seemed to view the book as a personal attack, and was very quick to talk about the possibility of legal action. I'm not sure if the court case ever arrived...the cleanup cycling certainly hasn't. A sad book, but a very highly recommended one.