"I did tell Joe Parkin to go to Belgium. I did not, however, tell him to stay" (ix). After reading that, I knew this was going to be an interesting read.
In the spring of 1986, Joe packs two bags (one holding his bike, the other holding everything else) and flies to Belgium rather than stick around to race regionally. And when Joe arrives in Belgium, he doesn't know the language, or really what he's doing; he's just one more amateur hoping to catch the eye of a team director and a pro contract.
The chapters are more or less laid out chronologically and are a selection of stories of Joe's five year pro career in Belgium. The stories are told with plain, spare language that makes it easy to imagine the slick roads, crazy riders, and crazier, fair-weather cycling fans that Joe encounters.
These stories are told with an insider's view. I mean that, while Joe is an American, he comes across quite European in the way he deals with quirky teammates, insulting team directors, hard riding conditions, and the overall suffering of being a professional bike racer.
Parkin doesn't gloss over the hard stuff, either. The way he and others dealt with drugs, doping, cheating, and deal-making are all confronted with the same frank 'this is the way it was' style (I found it refreshing). "It wasn't always pretty, but that's what happened," is the author's tone through these parts of the book.
Overall, I'd have to give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. And I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in delving deeper into cycling culture and the history of the sport.
A note on the title: "I had heard a lot of the old Belgians use the expression 'een hond met een hoed op,' which means 'A dog with a hat on'. In the context in which I heard it, I took it to mean that you see a dog in a hat when a normal situation changes, when something looks out of place" (102).