Hunger: The Autobiography, by Sean Kelly
Reviewed by Shane Stokes
Hunger: The Autobiography
He talks about his character, about growing up as a quiet kid on a farm near Carrick-on-Suir. “I was shy, but that wasn’t the only reason I kept my mouth shut. I took after father. If I had nothing to say I didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with blather,” he writes.
In another section he describes his focus on earning, and keeping, money. “Father lived according to the rhythm of the farm, knowing that in times of plenty you put a little something away for the days when there was not so much to spare,” he explains. But he then goes on to say that it was his elder brother Joe who made a bigger impression. “I didn’t like looking across at Joe and seeing his pile of savings after I’d spent all my own money.”
Harrowingly, Joe would die in his 30s as a result of a cycling accident, but he played a big part in his younger brother’s life. He got Kelly into the sport, his own interest in cycling setting his sibling on a path that would lead him to the top.
That route would see Kelly land major amateur success at home and abroad, be banned from the Olympics after his fellow Irishman Pat McQuaid convinced him to race in South Africa during the apartheid era, secure a pro contract after winning the amateur Tour of Lombardy and go on to early sprint success in the Tour de France.
Other landmarks are covered in the book: briefly wearing the yellow jersey in the 1983 tour, taking his first Classic win later that year, developing into the world’s best one-day rider, finishing fourth and fifth overall in the Tour de France and then winning the Vuelta a España, and experiencing the biggest disappointment of his career when he was outsprinted by Greg LeMond in the 1989 world road-race championships.
He goes into considerable detail about his life, but this is not a tell-all book about the sport; the subject of doping is passed over relatively quickly, with Kelly explaining away his positive tests for Stimul and codeine in 1984 and 1988 respectively. The first, he suggests, was a testing error; the second was because he had used a cough medication without verifying the ingredients were all allowed.
The allegations made against him by his former team worker Willy Voet are not mentioned. Kelly doesn’t deny substances were abused in the sport, though. He defends Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride book, which spoke of the subject. “A lot of it was true, so why criticise him?” he asks.
Kelly was always pragmatic. That sentiment comes through repeatedly in this well-written book, but so too does his hunger.
Shane Stokes is Cycling Correspondent and editor of the website velonation.com