A CLEAN BREAK
Author: Christophe Bassons
Publisher Bloomsbury Sport
isbn: 978 1 4729 1035 6
At last, a partial solution to a moral dilemma that I have. Like many people I was disappointed to find that so many of the leading road cyclists that I had followed and supported were later found to have cheated. Any respect was further reduced when several of them continued to deny any wrongdoing.
Increasingly I felt that it was morally wrong to be rewarding these riders by buying their books. Sometimes you knew the truth before buying the book - and indeed revealing that truth was the whole point of the book. Examples on my bookshelf include those from David Millar and Tyler Hamilton, both of which were excellent reads. In other cases the truth only came to light much later: like many people I bought several Lance Armstrong books under false pretences, and we may yet find that other rider biographies are similarly incomplete.
Fortunately here is a book from one of the good guys that can be bought without guilt: we may never know how many riders were riding ‘clean’ during the Lance years, but very few of them were prepared to break ranks at the time and actively denounce those who were riding ‘with assistance’. Christophe Bassons was one of the few, and the price that he paid was a shortened racing career. How can we be sure that he is clean? Well, he was known in the peloton as Mr Clean, but unfortunately it was to belittle him rather than applaud his stance.
Whilst the book may be worthy, is it actually a good book? The answer is yes, and for anyone interested in the on-going revelations about doping it brings a welcome new perspective to the debate. Having been initially published in French under the title Positif in 2000, it has now been updated to cover the recent revelations about Lance Armstrong. It has also been translated into English courtesy of Peter Cossins, who has been writing books and editing magazines on cycling for many years; if there were any quality control required he was well placed to provide it.
Reviewed by Richard Peploe
ALSO REVIEWED BY RICHARD PEPLOE
A key part of the story concerns one stage of the Tour de France on Bastille Day in 1999. By then Bassons had accepted an offer from Le Parisien newspaper to provide a column giving a rider’s inside view of the race, and in this column he expressed his unease with how doping within the sport was developing. During the stage Armstrong very publicly rode alongside Bassons and said ‘What you are saying to journalists is not good for cycling’. Even if any riders agreed with Bassons, they deemed it best to say nothing rather than risk the wrath of ‘le Patron’.
One of the additions to the book covered a meeting that both men had after Lance had finally admitted his misdemeanours, and worryingly both were in agreement that cycling ‘is not a better sport now’. They feel that the culture of cycling is still to push the boundaries of what is classed as normal, and this culture is so entrenched that significant changes are still required in all aspects of cycling, be it people, federations, or organisations.
They also agree that within sport generally cycling is leading the way in another aspect of doping, that of exposing the cheats, because some other sports have not accepted that they have a problem yet.
A story that needed telling, told well. ‘Chapeau’ to Mr Bassons, and I wish more riders had your principles.
REVIEW FIRST PUBLISHED 2015