Book Review: American Pro by Jamie Smith
One of the best things coming out of the US cycling scene in recent years has been the slow stream of books related to racing bikes in USA Cycling’s Pro Road Tour (PRT). The genre began with, and is still heavily owned by, recently retired pro Phil Gaimon with his books Pro Cycling on $10 a Day (2014) and Draft Animals (2017), but more members of the cycling community are beginning to write their own books on the PRT. The most recent venture into this territory is race announcer and award-winning author Jamie Smith’s new release American Pro: The True Story of Bike Racing in America.
American Pro details the Astellas Cycling team’s five-year journey from a domestic elite team to a formidable Continental-level pro team. The story is told through the eyes of author Jamie Smith who frequently served as Astellas Cycling's team photographer, soigneur, and go-fer. From this vantage point, Smith writes as an anonymous observer taking in the action from the back seat of the team car. The result is a cool new perspective that hasn’t been explored before in this genre.
Smith provides detailed coverage of Astellas Cycling’s biggest wins and most painful losses. These races come to life on the pages as the team battles trials and tribulations while looking for success. Naturally, this leads to great introductions to racers such as Adam Meyerson, Justin Williams, Aldo Ilesic, Ryan Aitcheson, David Williams, Jake Rytlewski, and Brandon “Monk” Feehery. These riders are the kind of cycling heroes that fans need to know and cheer for, and this book is just the tool to help readers get invested in these riders’ successes.
In addition to walking readers through race weekends, Smith illuminates the business side of pro cycling. For example, Smith details the product and financial sponsors that must come together for a team to perform. A fine line must be managed between these two types of sponsors to achieve financial viability over multiple years. Smith’s descriptions will change how you look at cycling teams racing on the PRT circuit. No matter how great a jersey looks, no team is as rich as they appear.
My one detraction for the book is that Smith occasionally falls too deeply into the pessimism that can creep into US cycling culture. Smith can be excused for some pessimism since he had a front-row seat for Astellas Cycling’s sponsorship woes in 2016. But, thankfully, in the final chapters, Smith recovers with a renewed, optimistic vision for the future of cycling based on the cycling community's radiating passion for the sport.
Ultimately, American Pro is a great addition to any cyclist’s library (regardless of their familiarity with pro cycling in the United States). The book captures the spirit of USA Cycling’s PRT in a way that TV broadcasts, live streams, and news sites can’t. Hopefully publisher VeloPress along with Barnes and Noble and Amazon will get this book into the hands of readers; American Pro will make fans out of them.