For 11 years I was a professional cyclist, competing in the hardest and greatest races on Earth. I was in demand from the world's best teams, a well-paid elite athlete. But I never won a race. I was the hired help. When my mum dropped me off in a small French town aged 17, I was full of determination to be a professional cyclist, but I was completely green. I went from mowing the team manager's lawn to winning every amateur race I entered. Then I turned pro and realised I hated the responsibility and pressure of chasing victory. And that's when I became a domestique. I learned to take that hurt and give it everything I had to give, all for someone else's win. When the order came in to ride it was I pushed out with the hardest rhythm I could, dragging the group faster and faster, until my whole body screamed with pain. There were times I rode myself to a standstill, clutching the barrier metres from the line, as the lead group shot past. But that's what made me a so good at my job. As my career took off, I started looking at the fans lining the route, cheering us like heroes. The passion for cycling oozed off them, but they couldn't know what it was really like.
They didn't see the terrible hotels, the crazy egos or all the shit that goes with great expectations. Well, this is how it is.
Charly Wegelius was one of Britain's most distinguished and respected professional cyclists. He grew up in York, and went on to race for some of cycling's best teams, including Mapei, the world's most successful ever team. In his 11-year career he competed in a remarkable 14 Grand Tours (including three Tours de France). Charly now works as a directear sportif for the Garmin-Sharp team. Co-writer Tom Southam is a former professional racing cyclist. He raced alongside Charly Wegelius for three years in the Italian professional peleton, and twice rode the professional Roac Race Championships as a teamate of Wegelius. He now works as a writer and contributes to major cycling publications in the UK and internationally.