Throughout the ages all of the major religions have had their prophets. Leaders and teachers who have led their flocks through troubled times providing counsel and hope in the midst of despair and deprivation. It may appear odd to refer to a work of fiction, a novel as the work of a prophet and/or seer, but I will risk it.
Our "religion" is bicycling, and our highest religious rite would have to be the Tour de France. If ever there was a year in which our religion needed a prophet, this would have to be it. The clairvoyance and crystalline vision Dave Shields shows as he explores the world of professional bicycle racing and the Tour de France tell us that this author has a working crystal ball. Published early in 2006 Dave's novel "The Tour," follows the battles of Ben Barnes, a former domestique, as he rises to the position of a contender for the maillot jaune or yellow jersey, the coveted indicator of the rider with the shortest elapsed time in the world's most arduous bicycle race.
Domestiques are the riders tasked with helping the star riders win the Tour de France. Their job is to sacrifice themselves physically and career wise to overcome any resistance that impedes their team's star. This resistance is commonly thought of as wind or gravity, but it often takes the form of sabotage by other teams, and political intrigue. The domestiques are the pawns. They are rarely talked about and almost never noticed because they give it all away to bolster their team's standing and advance their "lead rider" through the peloton. They are not used to, or often comfortable with, scrutiny, celebrity, or attention.
In the "Tour" David Shields has his hero, Ben Barnes, a former domestique suddenly thrust into the main stream of the tour as the lead rider for his team. The book then proceeds to unveil the pitfalls, intrigue, pressures, and plots that converge on our unsuspecting hero. The forces that compel him to perform in a superhuman fashion seem destined at the same time to drive him into a private hell of compromise, as well as emotional, personal, ethical, and substance abuses.
Sadly this work of fiction (most really good fiction is often informed knowledge couched in fantasy) has proven uncannily prophetic. The parallels between the fictitious Tour of Ben Barnes and the reality of the 2006 Tour can not be denied.
The 2006 Tour de France will in all likelihood go down in history as the penultimate example of professional athletic substance abuse. The ranks were thinned at the start through allegations of doping, and the winner of the race has now fallen into dishonor. Even as his drug status is being investigated, he stands to lose his title, convicted in the press before his trial. The similarities between fiction and reality are once again inescapable.
"The Tour" is a play by play description of the pressures which lead to, and reasons behind, such drug abuse. The volatile mixture of professional athletic competition, and commercial interests is stirred by avarice, greed, blackmail, and misdirected best intentions as they converge in a plot spinning out of control earmarking our hero for disgrace. Sound familiar?
You will not see the end coming. I guarantee it.
I can not say that this book is destined to be a classic in the spirit of Shakespeare or Chaucer, But, I honestly had trouble putting the book down. It is captivating, and although occasionally, perhaps a tad naieve, it is a page turner and for anyone interested in the events of this Tour de France, I would have to say it is a must read.