I hate to say it, but “Rough Ride” by Paul Kimmage isn’t a particularly well written book. It’s rough, slogging, workmanlike prose, stuff you have to pound your way through with a fair amount of effort and an even fairer grasp of the subject he’s writing about in order to appreciate.
As a domestique, that makes sense. He was a rough, slogging, workmanlike rider who fetched, carried, chased, and did his labors before falling off the pace and letting the leaders go about their business of winning races and glory. Raised his whole life to race bikes, it’s a bit unfair to expect that he’d be a master storyteller as well.
Some books, though, make their mark not because of the stylish turn of phrase, but because they write about the raw, bleeding chunks of hard-to-digest truth. In 2012, Kimmage’s treatment of doping in the peloton reads like a tame little bedtime tale, but at the time it sent cracks and shudders down into the bedrock foundations of the sport. Kimmage talked about drugs and he admitted to being a doper.
The truth hurts
In Kimmage’s case, the person who mostly got hurt by the truth was him. Icons like Stephen Roche, and compatriots like Pat McQuaid let it be known that they considered him a liar and a loser and a cheat. Kimmage, so the blowback went, took drugs because he didn’t have the ability to compete fairly with legitimate athletes. He was a whiner who learned that the toughest of sports had no room for quitters and cheaters like him. He became a pariah of sorts among the pro peloton, and ultimately the bane of the UCI and Lance.
In his methodical, plodding, workmanlike, dogged, domestique fashion, Kimmage refused to back down from his allegations of drugs and cheating in this dirty and crooked sport. While fanboy rags like Bicycling and VeloNews continued to praise the miracles of the drug cheats, Kimmage, along with David Walsh and a handful of others, relentlessly spoke truth–if not to power, at least to the stooges running the show.
When Floyd Landis burst the dam, Kimmage took the opportunity to hear Landis confirm what had long been suspected by those who followed pro cycling. A conspiracy had existed to cover up positive drug tests; the highest levels of the UCI were complicit; pro cycling was a meat market of drugs, cheats, and lies.
Why I hate cycling causes
I care zip what happens to pro cycling, to the UCI, or to the people/businesses/manufacturers/media who believe it’s their job to promote and publicize a crooked sport without trying to clean it up. The world has so many real problems that matter, and pro cycling is such a niche within a crevice inside a microcosm that the shenanigans of a few weasels is largely meaningless.
Clean up pro cycling? I’d be better served cleaning up my room.
Likewise, Kimmage of all people knew what he was getting into when he chose to continue his career as a cycling journalist. He could have returned to Ireland and done something else…anything else.
Instead, he chose to be the gadfly, to reveal the corruption, and to keep stinging even when the fat and powerful slow-moving hand came swinging his way. That he’s now getting squashed is exactly what anyone could have predicted. You swim in the septic tank, you’re gonna bump into turds.
Why we have an obligation to help him
Kimmage has now been sued by Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen in a vindictive lawsuit designed to punish him for vigorously pursuing the truth. RKP and Charles Pelkey lay out the hideousness of it in brutal detail.
Whether it’s good for cycling or bad for cycling; whether the UCI have cycling’s best interests at heart are or its worst; whether Kimmage is a dope or a great journalist; whether cycling is an important sport or a weird fetish; whether you like Kimmage’s prose or think it sucks…whether any of these things and more, we have a duty to help this guy out for a very simple reason:
No person, for pursuing any truth in any sphere in any degree, should be persecuted for that pursuit without those who believe in freedom of speech coming to his aid.
The lead has been taken by people who believe in cycling (I don’t) and who believe in free speech. Cyclismas, NYVelocity…people who write and think and promote and criticize and agitate about bikes for a living have said that if Kimmage gets the shaft, he won’t get it standing alone.
This isn’t about cycling. It’s about whether or not you’ll defend free speech with the vigor that you claim to respect it.
To me, Kimmage’s fight is worth $25.00 in this first round. If everyone who professes to believe in the free pursuit of truth also thought it was worth twenty-five bucks, Kimmage would be able to buy the entire UCI and every pro team with the proceeds of his defense fund. For those who think a few bucks don’t matter, you’re wrong. Kimmage has been empowered as a result. He’s gone from glumly contemplating a default to actively thinking of a legitimate legal game plan.
Maybe he’ll quit and go home without contesting the suit, but it won’t be for lack of moral or financial support. Maybe he’ll pick up the lance and run it through the nutsacks of Verbruggen and McQuaid, shriveled and hidden though they may be. Maybe he’ll fight and lose, but do justice to free speech in the process. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll fight and win and buy his first celebratory beer with the $5 you donated.
You want a fucking legacy? That’s a legacy.