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Chased by Pandas: My life in the mysterious world of cycling

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There are of course more constructive ways use one’s time than to read road cyclists’ autobiographies, but I dare say – even before I’ve read the book myself – that STS would be positively surprised if he bought (or loaned) the book and wasted a couple of hours of his time by reading it! Personally, I’d prefer to know more about the guy who’s been around the block, but Chased by Pandas is more interested in the story of an innocent young man making his way in the world. In his free time, Dan wrote a monthly column in Europe's greatest cycling magazine, Procycling, over an unusually long period, from 2008 to 2021. In 2017, as the Tour de France approached the end of its first week, French journalist Pierre Carrey wrote an article for Libération, a panegyric in letter form hymning the praises of Dan Martin, Quick-Step’s Irish puncheur. Known, thanks to his racing style and attitude, for being one of road cycling’s last romantics, Dan has always shied away from revealing too much about himself and his story.

The modern chamois memoir, though, is more an exercise in PR and image management than it is an exploration of a sport forever telling us to ignore what goes on in the shadows and just enjoy the spectacle. Each chapter's title has a sub-title based on a typical cyclist's fear: the fear of losing a race, the fear of retiring from the sport, the fear of mountains or downhills, the fear of doping and, ultimately, the fear of death. In the 2014 edition of the race approaching the finish with the possibility of a second victory but no panda chasing him fate intervened and he inexplicably crashed in the final sweeping bend of the race. Martin seems to be on a higher level, there are later examples of him having premonitions of victory, sending messages to his family to say “I’m going to win today”. When reading such books about the life of a bike racer covering the key points and the stories of race successes, though for me the greater interest is within storyline of the detailed day to day of what went on within a team, the camaraderie with other riders, the management and organisation, the positive aspects of how well the team prepares in it’s approach to an an important race.For a time they both lived in the club’s shared accommodation and Carrey got to know Martin, on and off the bike. On one level, Dan Martin’s chamois memoir (chamoir) Chased by Pandas – ghosted by Carrey – is that article stretched out to book length.

Now the headings mention phobias but it’s more a theme to explore rather than a catalogue of negatives. As an autobiography this book can’t explore what others thought but this unwitting pioneer angle alone makes him an interesting rider whose career spanned plenty, starting with the old-fashioned way of making his way to a French amateur climb in the hope of attracting attention via results in Europe. Written with his long-time friend and best-selling author Pierre Carrey, this is the story of a rider who never sought to conform to modern cycling’s norms and someone who, in many ways, embodies an age in cycling which has long since disappeared.Given that both Martin and Carrey have strayed further into the sport’s dark places in interviews and articles, it seems even lighter still.

At the Auberge Basque the menu was magnificent, from the reduction of asparagus from the garden served as a starter (accompanied by a mousseline of asparagus, dried skipjack tuna and marjoram) to the savoury version of a Basque cake, with ewe’s milk cheese replacing the cream. This is a fascinating page turning account of the life of an intelligent quirky puncheur, an outsider riding for some of the less glamorous teams in the "mysterious world of cycling" and making a success of doing it his way.

Dan also discusses every aspect of the professional cyclist’s life – food, discipline, money, dreams, friendship and betrayal. Along the way there are oddities, Martin’s been one of a handful to reject traditional post-race massages – they are a ritual, can be relaxing but there’s little evidence to suggest performance gains. As for dealing with pain, “I would take a paracetamol to help mask the fatigue and dull ache that three weeks of brutal racing inflicts on your body, but I then found out it was more of a placebo.

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