Cyclist-cum-scribe Paul Kimmage was profiled in the opening instalment in RTÉ’s new Friday night series The Big Story, which looks at the journalists behind some of Ireland’s most memorable headlines.
The Meath chronicler, who started writing whilst still pushing pedals for a living, quit cycling in 1989 aged just 27. A moderately talented but gutsy domestique, he was a water-carrier rather than a winner and it was no surprise that he should fall out of love with a life he was born into (his dad was a national champion).
The following year he came to wider public prominence when he published Rough Ride, an award-winning warts-and-all account of his career, with a jaundiced emphasis on his four seasons in the pro’ peloton. Essential reading (so good I got it twice), it exposed the extent of doping in the sport and included an admission to having used amphetamines himself on three occasions.
Kimmage’s candour made him a pariah among his former peers, with Stephen Roche bitterly upset by what he saw as his one-time team-mate’s betrayal of their profession, and Ireland’s stellar status in it. Kimmage in turn felt let down by Roche’s pretence that there was no drugs problem in bike racing, feeding the notion that the whistleblower was simply a bitter failure.
Their relationship is now non-existent. Seán Kelly, whom he gets on fine with (see panel), simply said nothing good, bad or indifferent when the book came out, which, as Kimmage told the programme, “was all that I could ask for.”
After cutting his teeth under Vincent Browne at the Sunday Tribune, in 1994 Kimmage was appointed senior sportswriter with the Sunday Independent, and within a couple of years became a key figure — along with Tom Humphries, Eamon Dunphy, Paul Howard and Slieverue man David Walsh, a constant source of support — in un/covering the Michelle Smith scandal, refusing to buy her media cheerleaders’ line that the golden girl’s performances in the Atlanta pool were pure. (Ironically, around that time the future Ms de Bruin tried her hand as a co-presenter on a short-lived RTÉ sports show, having sought to carve out a media career before becoming a barrister).
The resentment he experienced as a result of his “take your heads out of the sand” stance on Ireland’s shallow swimming heroine was, he recalled, even tougher to deal with than the reaction to his cycling revelations; which is surprising considering that after Rough Ride “I was Salman Rushdie for eight years; it was like a cycling fatwah.”
Only eight, for in 1998, the year the Tour de France came to Ireland, the lid was lifted off the whole can of worms. The man accused of ‘spitting in the soup’ by former colleagues (one of whom spat in his face when he first showed up at the tour as a member of the press corps) had been vindicated, and pro cycling’s uneasy coming-to-terms with its drug culture is catalogued in subsequent reprints of the book.
See The Munster Express newspaper for full story.