hit tracker Dave Shields Author Blog: July 2007

A journal detailing my efforts to launch my career as a novelist. The goals are to share info about succeeding in this field with other aspiring authors, to provide updates to the many supporters who have asked me for them, and ultimately to build the momentum necessary to assure success in this venture.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The State of Cycling

The sport I love is in chaos. It's currently imploding under an enormous lie. It's not a lie that's unique to cycling, but for a variety of reasons this sport is currently exposed more than any other. That lie is doping. Here's the reality for the elite athletes in many sports:

The fans are led to believe that cheating is against the rules. Seems like pretty simple logic. The athletes experience is entirely different. They dedicate their lives to reaching the top of their chosen profession, and eventually they arrive upon a difficult realization. The unspoken code of athletics is, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying." All around them they see evidence that the athletes they once admired from afar are not quite so superhuman as the television has made them appear. Now on the inside, they are introduced to codes of silence and unwritten rules. They discover that there is a man behind the curtain and that the strings he pulls could make or break their career. They have choices to make: Do they take the next step? Do they turn their back and quietly walk away from their dreams? Do they blow the whistle?

If you think the second or third choices are the easy ones then you probably haven't stopped to imagine the dilemma that these men are facing. With only a small window of time in which to fit their career, make their name, earn their fortune, it's not so easy to "do the right thing." With everything invested including the support of loved ones and the dreams of a lifetime it's not so simple to simply walk away.

Imagine climbing Everest, a conquest that's usually years in the making. Even once you've reached Nepal the ascent is an arduous task requiring many ascents and descents for acclimation. It takes weeks, sometimes months, to get an opportunity to reach the top. Now imagine that your summit day arrives and that, having invested all of your resources and energy into gaining the peak you're surprised to come upon a yellow police line half-way up the final slope. The peak is within sight, but it's closed today for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Up the slope you can see that others have ignored the warning. Do you cross beneath the piece of tape, knowing that it's an illegal act, but confident you're not likely to get caught? Or do you turn around, giving up on your quest within sight of capturing it, thwarted by a rule that others seem to be ignoring? Is the decision easy? This isn't a perfect analogy to doping in sport, but it's closer than you might like to think.

Chemists, doctors, sponsors, advertisers, team ownership, fans, and other facilitators have put athletes (cyclists in this case) into a very difficult position. Man up or be seen as a quitter. The second choice isn't an alternative that sits well with many athletes. The pressure to cheat often feels greater than the pressure to abide by the rules, but even the act of cheating isn't set up fairly. If the athlete cheats with drugs it's almost impossible to do that without the help of others, but if he gets caught he usually faces career ending punishment. The facilitators rarely face anything. They just find another athlete to put under pressure. These facilitators are the true beneficiaries of cheating. In my conversations with elite athletes I've found that nearly all of them want drugs driven from their sports, but speaking so boldly, for them, could be career suicide.

It's a situation that must be cleaned up, not just in cycling but across the athletic world. As a fan of this beautiful and complex sport I hope that it can survive the cleansing. More than many observers I have confidence it will. Partly that springs from a very fortunate circumstance. I know Saul Raisin. This kid is good... not just athletically, but morally. Saul survived his terrible crash because of the tough lessons he learned in the sport of cycling. He's proof of how powerfully this sport can shape lives, and he's about to show the world that it's possible to accomplish incredible things on a bike while riding clean. Saul is an outspoken opponent of drugs and the drug culture. If sport is to survive we need a lot more athletes to follow his example. That's why I repeat what you may have already heard some cycling fans cheering. "Go Saul! Go!"

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Yesterday morning I found time for a ride. Once I got going I couldn't get myself to stop. At the top of the second mountain pass some guys talked me into riding down the backside with them. That meant there would be two big climbs between me and home, though. On the way back up the hill I really started suffering, and I was nowhere near as capable of hiding it as the super-human athletes you see in the Tour de France. I ran out of food and water and I could hardly keep my bike going forward. Eventually I found a shady spot and laid down for a while. Farther up the slope I stuck my head under a waterfall.

I descended the mountain just fine, but then on the second climb my legs seized. It was so bad that I almost fell off my bike into the center of the road. Eventually I found myself sitting in the ditch, incapable of bending my legs. It wasn't merely that they hurt, but my brain was incapable of even sending a signal to my muscles to bend my knee. After five minutes I started walking my bike and a little later on I was able to start riding. I rolled down the last hill but there were a few short hills between the entrance to the canyon and my house. The last one is a steep bugger (17%), and as I approached it I knew I couldn't possibly make it up. I got off my bike and struggled to the top at a slow walk. I came into the house and collapsed. My wife took one look and said, "What in the world is wrong with you."

What happened is that I do way too much writing and way too little riding. My ting/ding ratio is seriously out of whack. You should see the insane striations in my left pinky finger, though.