This week, Saddles has mostly been reading about the trials and tribulations of stellar Eastern European rouleur Romain Mariani of the Gazin-Regus PMP team.
There's a good reason why you've never heard of him: Mariani is pure fiction — the leading character in a gothic cycling novel coming out later this summer.
Entitled 'Consumed', the first 10 chapters of the book will be available to download in June while 200 limited edition illustrated copies will be up for grabs in a deluxe musette-style package.
The novel is set mostly within the World Tour and follows the 26-year-old Mariani's misfortunes as his career falls to pieces. On the verge of stardom, our hero has a terrible crash and gets himself into a bit of a pickle trying to overcome the resulting brain damage.
"There's lots of pain, suffering, strange substances and dark nights of the soul," Jonathan Budds, the author, told Saddles on delivering the first two chapters for a spot of proof reading.
Saddles devoured the opening chapters with the same voracious appetite as Jan Ullrich unleashed at a Bratwurst stand in Bonn.
The story starts on the penultimate stage — a gruelling mountain trek — of a fictional one-week stage race at the fag end of the season.
Mariani, who has an "infected saddle sore on his perineum and a livid haematoma the size of an eleven cog on his left elbow", is on the verge of bonking and craves meat — but has to settle for a bread roll, moist with a team-mate's sweat and stuffed with "something pink and sad".
Up ahead, Belgian journeyman De Vilde is holding off the chasing group that includes Mariani and his big-jawed German team-mate Grasch, the Australian rat-faced poseur Mitchell (Feraz-Hi:Gen Pro-Racing), race leader Hans Banquo (Credit Haussmann) and his 5'3" Basque climbing domestique, Xterrax.
The soggy roll is enough to give Mariani — who suffers from protein deficiency — a brief second wind, but he fades in the closing kilometre, allowing Mitchell to move above him into second-place in the GC.
Austrian favourite Banquo — voted Bild magazine's 'Arsche de Jahre' — does enough to secure the overall win, although the surprise (and highly suspect) stage victory goes to the non-climbing De Vilde, a veteran of 30 Grand Tours with more broken bones to his name than palmares.
Nine hours later, De Vilde is found dead in his bed by his Lithuanian room-mate returning home with a podium girl in the early hours.
The cause of death has yet to be confirmed as the riders start the final processional stage of the race, which the peloton statesman Banquo orders to be ridden at a funereal pace in respect to the late De Vilde.
Rumours flutter through the field: some say De Vilde died of a brain haemorrhage; others, a heat stroke; one theory is that his liver exploded.
The reality is clear enough though: De Vilde had been doping; his blood had turned to jam as he slept.
His colleagues know who's to blame: the unhinged British doctor and pharmacological genius Alann Triesmaan, a murky character — "a vucking vucker," says a Dutch team medic — who hangs around on the fringes of the pro cycling circuit and specialises in "the seriously weird stuff … the freaky shit," according to one rider.
Dr Triesmaan (who lives with his leggy 'assistant' on a suburban estate where he concocts a series of 'healing' drugs for sportsmen and burnt-out business execs) is described as constantly wearing a white suit — and Saddles wouldn't be surprised to learn, later in the novel, that he drives a Ferrari and holidays in Spain...
'Consumed' is a great read, blending everyday myths and realities of the peloton with bidons of black humour, witty characterisation and quirky observation.
Mitchell, Mariani's goading bête noir, is portrayed as a mummy's boy (he and his grotesque mother kiss "half cheek, half mouth" in celebration) who wears yellow personalised sunglasses and, apparently, pads out his shorts before taking to the podium.
De Vilde is said to have crashed into seven dogs during his career, killing two, while Banquo's famed backside is covered by the logo of a popular Austrian bagel chain, his team's co-sponsor.
At one point in the final climb described in the opening chapter, a fan in a surgical mask and green overall runs up to Mariani, offering him a syringe filled with red liquid. It's a scene that mirrors a near-identical episode on Alpe d'Huez last July when Alberto Contador was forced to punch an over-zealous fan in fancy dress. And we all know what happened to Bert...
Although all the characters are entirely fictional, there are constant delicious references to topical moments in cycling, such as the Roberto Heras and Floyd Landis positives in 2005 and 2006.
Mariani himself is portrayed as a clean rider bent on riding out of poverty and away from the family pig farm, who "for his own reasons, wanted nothing to do with drugs". But a later chapter that Saddles proofed sees Mariani being invited by Banquo to an off-season training run where the soon-to-be-retiring champion looks set to ask our hero to join his team as the new leader.
Despite his apparent anti-doping stance, plus his beautiful professional ice-skater girlfriend's assertions that his sport is not a safe one, you get the impression that Mariani will flirt with the dark side — and get spat out (or consumed, if you will) by the murky demi-monde of dastardly dopage. (It's just a hunch.)
A few top 10s in the spring classics and seventh place in the Giro is surely not enough for a man earmarked to fill Banquo's illustrious Sidi cycling shoes. Saddles foresees a fateful rendez-vous with Dr Triesmaan, a resultant downfall and, possibly, Joe Papp-esque redemption.
Outside the cycling sphere, Saddles certainly suspects there will be an affair between Mariani and Banquo's pretty, blonde, photographer wife, Claudia, whose "unripe raspberry lipstick" and "fern-green eyes" Mariani takes a firm shining to. So much so, that he's obliged to return to his hotel room for a bit of personal time after running into her following that early race...
Jonathan, the author of 'Consumed', informs Saddles he plans to circulate the first three chapters in May to get interest simmering in various bike shops and cycling events, perhaps even serialising it in one UK bike magazine.
Very soon, a website — www.consumed-novel.com — will go active where, in June, the public will be able to download the first 10 chapters of the novel for free. The 200 limited edition musette packs will be available (hopefully gratis for kindly bike bloggers who proof early drafts and publicise the book online) for order followed by an e-book and paperback on Amazon.
In a bid to avoid any unwanted page-turning accidents, it has been advised that anyone wishing to purchase the musette version must not be a Euskaltel fan...