Every team sport needs its water carriers â€“ the guys who can be relied upon to do the heavy shifting, complete the hard miles.
Rugbyâ€™s front row forwards, footballâ€™s no-nonsense defenders and cyclingâ€™s domestiques fall into this category. Dependable, hard-working characters who never let the side down and have no desire to feature in the sportâ€™s spotlight; most are content simply to compete as professional sportsmen and women.
A decade ago, William Fotheringham wrote Put Me Back on My Bike, an acclaimed biography of Tom Simpson, the Briton who died on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France. As a youngster, Simpson travelled to France hoping to become a professional rider and succeeded in becoming a star. By contrast, Charley Wegelius, a 17-year-old from York, made the same journey and became a respected domestique.
One of the few occasions this outstanding book gets anywhere near glamorous is when Wegelius is recruited by and signs his first professional contract with the Italian Mapai team, then the worldâ€™s best. Fortunately, he was clever enough to appreciate that to succeed as the teamâ€™s newcomer, he must be prepared to get his hands dirty.
A friend, congratulating him on clinching his inaugural contract, added that, â€śloads of people get in [to pro cycling], but not many people get to stay.â€ť It was advice Wegelius clearly took to heart for he remained a domestique for eleven hard years between 2000-2011.
These, he maintains, were turbulent times for cycling, replete with scandals, drug raids, confessions and accusations, a period when a â€śdoping culture [was] deeply embedded within the sportâ€ť, but Wegelius prefers to focus on life as a foot soldier.
The result is a genuinely fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at life as a professional rider. Thereâ€™s little room for glitz, regular TV appearances, or what might be called sportâ€™s sparkle in the domestiqueâ€™s world. As Wegelius acknowledges, he was employed to â€śride through pain so strong, itâ€™s like holding your hand in a flame.â€ť
Domestique is a gritty examination of a sporting life away from the spotlight, an account which proves that water carriers are a pivotal part of every team sport.