Originally published on the AwesomeBooks blog, August 2015.
In October 2012, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for running what the United States Anti-doping Agency called the “most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”.
Three years later cycling is showing signs of recovery, but continues to feel the aftershocks of Armstrong’s transgressions. Chris Froome’s victory in this summer’s tour was marred by persistent innuendo from some cycling fans and media outlets about whether the Briton had doped.
Updated in 1998 and again in 2007 due to its popularity, Rough Ride is arguably more relevant now than at any time since its original publication in 1990. Paul Kimmage tells the extraordinary story of his journey from a cycling-obsessed teenager riding an average of 400 miles per week to an established professional surrounded by a culture of doping.
To Kimmage’s regret, it is not a story about the heroic resistance of an anti-doping white knight. He is brutally honest about the pressures that caused him to commit the sins of the sport he loved, even if it was with reluctance and disgust at himself. In the end injuries, and the realisation that he was fighting a losing battle against doping as a cyclist, brought his career to an end.
Kimmage’s sweeping prose takes you along for the ride, with the highs and lows of arguably the most world’s toughest sport leaping off the page. The effect on those closest to him and the toll the sport took on his state of mind are laid bare in a page-turner that would belong in any thriller collection.
For Kimmage, writing the book led former colleagues and team-mates to turn against him. Since its publication Kimmage has written extensively about doping for the Irish Sunday Independent and the Sunday Times and was famously involved in a heated argument over doping with Lance Armstrong during a press conference for the 2009 Tour of California. In 2014 Rough Riders, a documentary following Kimmage’s examination of the 2013 Tour de France and what cycling was doing to remove the culture of doping after Armstrong’s confessions, was shown on Irish television.
Along with Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by fellow Irishman David Walsh, Rough Ride should be required reading for sports fans, cyclists, journalists or anyone with a passing interest in professional sport. If you’re looking for an exposé on doping in sport which is at once shocking, heart-breaking and impossible to put down, or why cycling continues to be dogged by controversy over doping, look no further.