Cyclist Thomas Dekker's 'hellish' life of drugs, clubs and prostitutes
There is an extraordinary passage near the start of Thomas Dekker’s book The Descent in which the author – a former Dutch rider who was banned for two years for doping offences – describes his introduction to the senior ranks of pro cycling. Dekker arrives at his hotel room in Germany ahead of the Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt to find Steven De Jongh, an older rider on the Rabobank team, lying on a bed. As Dekker prepares to introduce himself, De Jongh switches TV channels to some pornography, throws him a towel and suggests the younger man pleasures himself.
“I’m gobsmacked,” Dekker writes. “There I stand, case in hand, coat still on. I’m a trainee. This is the man who’s going to tell me what it takes to be a pro.”
Dekker, though, is not about to flunk his audition, not having battled his way through the junior ranks to emerge as one of Holland’s brightest talents. “If this is a test, I’m not about to fail it,” he writes. “I want to be part of the gang. If this is what it takes, then this is what it takes.” Welcome to pro cycling.
We have grown accustomed in recent years to the warts-and-all doping confessional. The Noughties spawned a veritable cottage industry, many of them excellent reads; Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race, David Millar’s Racing Through the Dark. The Descent – which will be published in English on July 6 – is arguably the most shocking yet, and not only for its descriptions of doping, lurid though they are. There are, of course, the usual stories of EPO and shady hotel room transfusions; Dekker sitting in a pool of his own blood in a bathroom at 4am with a needle in his arm.
But it is the uncomfortably raw, matter-of-fact descriptions of the hedonistic lifestyle of a professional cyclist just one decade ago, and the depths to which he sank as he tried to navigate his way through that minefield, which are most shocking. “I don’t think there is another cycling book that is more complete than my book,” Dekker, now retired and speaking from his home in Belgium, tells The Telegraph. “It’s not only doping. It’s like my first weekend away with Rabobank, we went to a club with loads of girls. And I never did anything like that in my life. I just wanted to be a professional bike rider.”
Dekker’s problem, it rapidly becomes clear, is that he is unable to hold himself back. The son of a swimming pool attendant and a baggage handler at Schiphol airport, he makes no bones of the fact that he wanted to escape his humble upbringing. He is brash and brilliant, cocky and materialistic. “I expected the world to revolve around me,” he writes at one point. “I expected to be the centre of attention.”
As he plunges himself headlong into a dark world of doping and sex and recreational drugs, he ends up coming to the attention of the authorities.
Even after he returns from his ban, though, he cannot help himself. Having been offered a route back into the sport by Cannondale boss Jonathan Vaughters, Dekker flies out to Colorado for a pre-season camp and nearly costs himself a contract by going to a lap-dancing club and spending the night with a prostitute.
Dekker insists he is “not proud” of the book. He knows that by releasing it to coincide with the Tour de France, he will be accused of piggybacking on cycling’s biggest race. He cannot really deny that. But he is unashamed. He says he hopes his fall from grace acts as a cautionary tale.
“It’s absolutely not a publicity book for myself,” he says. “It’s raw, it’s honest. I’m not blaming anybody else.
“I’m not proud of this book. I’ve been to hell. My mother read the book and she didn’t go to work for a month. Those are the people who love me the most. The book is way bigger than all those little things that people write articles about for headlines. It’s my life. And I f----d it up. And I’m aware of that. I’m 33 years old. And if I didn’t sell one book, for me, it’s absolutely the same. I just felt that I needed to write this story down.”
Writing his book, he says, has lifted a weight off his shoulders. “It makes you a better person and it makes you a nicer person to be around.”