The Serpico of Cycling


“Nothing to see here…move along, please…it’s just Paul Kimmage”
Graham Watson photo

I don’t know if Paul Kimmage is laughing or crying these days. But he just took a huge, steaming dump on Sean Kelly’s legacy.

A couple of months ago I re-read Kimmage’s book Rough Ride, and it struck me as being even more depressingly bleak than I remember from my initial ingestion some 15 years ago. Talk about living the 12k dreamer’s life…Kimmage probably made about that much in salary each year, yet he was expected to ride a full calendar of Grand Tours and Classics. Kimmage only fessed up to taking amphetamines on 3 occasions in post-Tour criteriums, and I’m inclined to believe that was the extent of his doping. What he did expose to the world, however, was the spectre of drugs among his teammates and peers. The proliferation of personal “medicine” suitcases; the compact, modified syringes which came out mid-stage for a quick amphetamine shot in the ass on the peloton’s way to the Champs-Élysées; the “wink wink” about the ease of beating doping controls. Kimmage was simply trying to survive, and for most pros that was the impetus to juice. Random testing was virtually non-existent…you could dope up to your eyeballs in service of your team leader and then just make sure you didn’t win the stage or a jersey. Or die.

Kimmage walked away from the sport and his 4 year career as a professional cyclist when he quit the 12th stage of the 1989 Tour. As a pro is highlights were relatively few: Kimmage finished 2 Grand Tours (1986 Tour, 1989 Giro) and played a role in Stephen Roche’s 1987 world championship. As an amateur, Kimmage was an Olympian at the ‘84 Los Angeles Games and finished 6th in the road worlds. Since Kimmage hung up his wheels in disgust he embarked on a career as a journalist, an occupation he dabbled in as a pro (Kimmage supplied a weekly diary to the Dublin Sunday Times). These days he’s employed at the London Times, and if you plug “Kimmage” into the search box you’ll unearth Kimmage’s body of work over the past 5 years. There are approximately 65 interviews, all worth reading. It’s an enlightening view into a world of sports for the most part totally foreign to Americans. The bulk of his subjects are either either Brits or foreigners taking place in the world of British professional sports. Sports such as soccer, rugby, cricket, Formula 1 racing, snooker…Articles about cycling do appear, but always through the lens of doping. You can almost sense Kimmage’s gritted teeth permeating his cycling prose. To say he was a persona non grata among pro cyclists for publishing Rough Ride is quite an understatement, but who better to hurl a brick into cycling’s glass house than an angry Irishman wracked with Catholic guilt. And Ireland is ground zero for Catholic guilt…I lived in Ireland for approximately 6 months as a foreign exchange student, and there was a creepy placard on the dining room wall of my house which said, “Jesus Christ is the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener of every conversation”. Kimmage cracked…and his very public confession was his means of coming to terms with the farce of professional cycling.

Comments (8) to “The Serpico of Cycling”

  1. Even David Millar (pre-comeback) has refused to be interviewed by Kimmage and they’re not even close to the same cycling generation. I don’t know Millar’s thoughts on Kimmage.

  2. did you tip off Big Jonny and his link dumpage of kimmage?

    I hate to have an idol like Kelly Tarnished, but… heck, it is a reality… *sigh*

  3. Brilliant photo find: really says it all! I think it was Armstrong’s strong-armed denial of a Tour stage to another whistle-blower that made me stop respecting him.

  4. By the way, is that Baby Indurain off to the right?

  5. Adam- I vaguely remember an exchange Millar had with Kimmage at a press conference after Millar’s suspension ended. Kimmage was pretty brutal with his questions and Millar really didn’t have any reply.

    gewilli- That was just a coincidence with the drunkcyclist link dump…I had nothing to do with it. I’d been reading Kimmage’s stuff for a while and thought his latest article was worthy of comment.

    Sebastian- I always thought that Graham Watson photo was kind of ill-spirited…and now oddly prescient. The whole Armstrong/Simeoni mess was a sad spectacle and I think indicative of the pro peloton omerta. I didn’t have much respect for Armstrong after that.
    …And yes, that’s likely to be Indurain in the Reynolds kit. Good catch. 1987, the year of the photo, was Indurain’s 3rd Tour and the first one that he finished.

  6. i remember reading a piece by kimmage, trying to interview millar before he got caught. maybe it was the same one?

    at the time i thought millar was just being his usual arrogant self. in retrospect it was probably paranoia and guilt.

  7. […] Man, everybody’s got a book these days. Floyd Landis wrote one that was apparently pretty bad (he stole the title, too), and Saul Raisin’s working on one about his comeback, despite not having really come back yet. Used to be only the weirdos and paraiahs of the cycling world wrote books, but with the help of a few co-authors, everyone’s getting in on the act. Maybe I should get a job as a cycling book writer. I guarantee lower rates than Sally Jenkins, and my services will come with the added benefit of making your book not utterly suck. Personally, I’d love to write the life story of T-Mobile’s Serhiy Honchar. I would call it Low-Hanging Fruit. Honchar’s a veteran rider who’s already built a solid palmares, and hopefully a solid retirement portfolio. Last season’s TdF performance aside, the 36-year-old had only a few seasons left, and his rise to prominence during the dope-happy 90’s, affiliation with Eastern Bloc training programs, and ostensibly inefficient riding style had already made him the subject of rumors; the perfect high-profile target for T-Mobile to say “Look, we kicked someone out! We’re policing ourselves successfully!” With the UCI now ripping of Hollywood in an attempt to give their existing anti-doping measures more teeth, I really want to trust that Bob Stapleton is putting in a bona fide effort to self-regulate. But since CSC, the other ProTour self-policer, has had a slew of doping cases surrounding it, I think my cynicism can be forgiven. Certainly, I’m more trusting than the French, German and Dutch representatives, who expressed distinct displeasure at the news that Alejandro Valverde would be allowed to compete at this year’s Tour de France. Oh, yeah, and I guess there was some racing, too. A little-known Italian guy made a gutty breakaway for his first win at the Tour de Suisse, while local lad Fab Cancellara completed the three-day trifecta of winning a TT, podiuming in a group sprint and finishing with the lead pack on a hill stage. Cance did crack the next day, but teammate Frank Schleck (Andy’s older, fatter brother, in case you forgot) came away with the win and the GC lead. Then today, Robbie McEwen won a group gallop, with Daniele Bennati scoring his third 2nd place five days. […]

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