Breaking the Chain – Willy Voet

9 Jan


As well as an end of year list I thought this year I would put up a few sporadic book reviews. This wont be all the books I read just those that I think are worth commenting on, positively or negatively.

Breaking The Chain – Willy Voet

I’m not usually one for reading non-fiction books. After spending large parts of my working day reading committee reports; reviews; consultation documents and so forth I feel I more than hit my quota of factual/real-life reading. I want an author to create a world away from my own, allowing me to tune out of the day-to-day grind for a brief period. Still, I gave this book a go as it was recommended to me by a friend and given it is just 127 pages I thought what’s the worst that can happen?

I have to say I did actually enjoy this read.  It is an interesting and eye-opening insight into the murky world of drugs in sport.  Perhaps I enjoyed it as some of the content is so absurd that it is almost stranger than fiction.

I do have a lot of sympathy for cycling as a sport.  I grew up as a young teenager watching the highlights of the Tour de France on late night channel 4.  I have a few childhood heroes but Bjarne Riis is certainly up there with the best.  He himself is now a discredited drugs cheat of course.

Cycling is very often seen as the dirtiest sport because of the numerous high-profile examples of cheating it has exposed.  In Lance Armstrong it has the dubious honour of perhaps the most notorious drugs cheat of all time.  Who would have thought that crown would ever be taken from Ben Johnson?

The truth is of course that drugs are prevalent in all sports, it is just perhaps that cycling has done more to expose its own problems than many others.  Do we honestly believe that no high-profile football or rugby players are using illegal performance enhancing supplements?

In regards to the book itself the protagonist, former sports physiotherapist Willy Voet, jumps from recounting the various involvements he and others had in cheating the system over the years with a more lineal timeline of his period of incarceration after being caught crossing the border carrying drug supplies for the Festina race team.  Despite the fact that he’s central to a drug cheat scandal and very guilty it’s hard not to have some sympathy for Willy Voet. His accounts of prison seem shockingly lonely.  It is a little dated in so far as the Festina Affair that Willy Voet is caught up in is old news when it comes to drugs in cycling.  There are no doubt far more current books on the subject.  Still it remains shocking to hear of the extent and methods that cyclists went to in order to compete during Voet’s time in the sport.

I doubt the book would appeal to the majority of people but if you have an interest in cycling, sport or the role of drugs in sport then it is more than worth a read.


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