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Shocking but a great read.
on 29 October 2001
Willy Voet worked for many years as a soigneur for some of the world's top professional road racing teams. A soigneur is a person who takes care of other people and that is just what Willy did. Making sure that everyone had the right food, massage regime and drugs.
In 1998, he was arrested as he entered France with the supply of drugs to be used by the Festina team in that year's Tour de France. At first, the French thought that they had picked up another drug dealer bringing back supplies from the Netherlands but when they realised the true significance of their find, the consequences for the tour were severe.
The 1998 tour was almost scrapped and serious damage was done to the reputation of the event, the teams and cyclists. Voet himself was briefly imprisoned and then kicked out of the sport which was quite prepared to sacrifice him as a single rotten apple. That led directly to this book in which Voet tells of his own experiences of the drug taking within the world of professional cycling.
The scope of those revelations is shocking indeed. Not just the fact that drug taking occurred but the degree to which it spread across the whole sport and the lengths to which teams went to ensure that riders had the best set of drugs for their individual needs and the measures taken to prevent the riders from testing positive for banned substances. If you want to know exactly how to give a sample of somebody else's urine when stripped and made to give that sample in the presence of a doctor, read here.
The book has it's lighter moments too. The rider caught because the mechanic, who had provided the specimen that the rider later produced, had been taking amphetamines. Another rider who was prepared to buy a dose of rocket fuel, contents unknown, from a stranger who promised that he could win a stage.
Voet's motivation in writing this book is, at least in part, to justify himself by explaining that he did nothing that was not common practice throughout the sport. As such, some will doubt his veracity but he does not mince his words. He names names and gives considerable detail and yet nobody is queuing up to sue him for defamation.
The book does not pretend to be a far reaching survey or to tell the whole story. The author simply writes about his personal involvement in and knowledge of the field. William Fotheringham's translation is very good indeed. He writes fluidly and clearly understands what he is working on. Together, the two men have produced a fascinating book which is really an essential read for anyone interested in cycling or the effects of drugs on sport in general.