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Métier; A job or profession, particularly the one for which a person has the strongest aptitude and most enjoys doing.
The French word ‘métier’ has its Latin root in ‘ministerium’ or ‘service’ and by the time I’d finished reading Le Métier - the seasons of a professional cyclist by Canadian Michael Barry with photographs by Camille J McMillan I was under no illusions about what degree of service it requires to succeed as a professional cyclist.
I approached Le Métier as I approach a copy of Rouleur, the quarterly magazine that documents the passions and foibles of road cyclists-of-a-certain-type and published by the same folks as this book; an expectation of a happy 20 minutes or so skimming the photographs and captions before putting it down to carry on with something more pressing. Then keeping it lying around to dip into over weeks or months. I like Rouleur because it lends a flagship legitimacy to my hobby when I’m surrounded by friends and family who think a 50-year-old dreaming about bicycle parts and bicycle racing is ridiculous.
With this, I picked up Le Métier on a Saturday when I was supposed to be riding and didn’t put it down again for four hours by which time I’d absorbed some 32,000 words divided into chapters Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn. The book covers Michael Barry’s year of 2009 with the team that had then become Columbia-Highroad but if I was hoping for a spilling-of-the-beans on Mark Cavendish and his team mates it would have been a disappointing read.
In fact, considering Barry has had a long and distinguished career riding for, among others, the various versions of US Postal featuring Lance Armstrong, Columbia-Highroad and now Team Sky it’s perhaps a surprise that more big names don’t get mentioned although, to be fair, Barry’s previous book ‘Inside the Postal Bus: My Ride with Lance Armstrong’ pretty much said what could be said considering they’re now on different teams.
Where he does mention riders, it’s his close friends particularly David Millar, George Hincapie and Christian Vande Velde (who provides the forward to Le Métier), his fellow residents and training companions in the Spanish cyclists’ enclave of Girona in Spain, who are described in the most loyal terms. Although all have had their moments of glory, it’s in the shared experience as domestiques for the stars, the leadout men for the likes of Mark Cavendish that shine out of this narrative. These are the real stars, I now realise.
Of course, since Le Métier was published in April, the American Floyd Landis has implicated Michael Barry, George Hincapie, most famously Lance Armstrong, and other members of the former US Postal team in accusations of organised performance enhancing drug-taking on a grand scale, all of which remains to be resolved.
Without a smoking gun, it never will be but in this book Barry discusses at length the fall and subsequent rehabilitation of his friend David Millar and without writing “I took drugs” neither does he shirk the thought, particularly in the touching portrayal of his former colleague, the now-disgraced Roberto Heras that professional cycling is certainly enough to drive you to drugs.
No, with some useful insight into his family and upbringing, this is mostly an internal meditation on the determination, loyalty, passion, sacrifice and good manners required to make it as a seasoned pro. It made me immediately want to give it to every 17-year-old I know. Mostly because of Barry’s wry observations about young upstart neo-pros. Perhaps also to inspire them to keep training but mostly for the lesson that you can find happiness in the most backbreaking and apparently thankless tasks, if you believe in them.
It’s an expensive production, this, with heavy art paper for the copious photography pages on which Camille McMillan has unobtrusively recorded Michael Barry’s year, from training in the bleak winter countryside surrounding Girona to the no-less bleak Tour of Missouri in the late Autumn. Via basic hotels, cyclists’ cafes and shitty changing rooms across the world. It’s no world of glamour and the better for seeing it with an honest eye.
Michael Barry already has a well-respected regular column on the New York Times and this book only cements his reputation as a thoughtful and honest commentator on the human condition. He also happens to ride a bike but his métier is really teaching contentment through hard work, love and sharing with his family and friends.
Gritty, insightful, and inspiring account of what it takes to succeed as a cycling pro… and as a human being too
Le Métier - the seasons of a professional cyclist
By Michael Barry & Camille J McMillan
Hardback 204 pages Published by Rouleur £35
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Make and model: Rouleur Le Métier - the seasons of a professional cyclist
Size tested: Hardback 204 pages Published by Rouleur
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes - £35 is a lot of money, although possibly not so expensive for a lesson in life
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes