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The Tour, Tour de France Novel - Author Interview
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 2/15/2006
The Tour, Tour de France Novel - Author Interview

The Tour - Tour de France Novel Author Interview
Cycling author Dave Shields interview about his sequel The Tour, his research, and why he chose to confront a doping scandal during The Tour de France as part of the plot. Dave Shields will be in the Chat this Saturday with Pro Rider Marty Jemison to discuss the novel and his research.

Writing about Cycling might be described as a mission of passion for Dave Shields. A rider and fan himself Dave followed up his success of his second novel, "The Race" a novel about Tour de France,† with the sequel "The Tour."† Not content with just writing a novel that would entertain Shields decided to confront the "dark side" of athletics in this sequel that effects every level of sport from amateur to Olympics.

VT: What was it like to be chosen for the Ben Franklin award for Best New Voice in Fiction?
Dave Shields:
When I was called to the podium I threw my fists in the air and told the crowd that I felt like Iíd just won the Tour de France. That may sound like an overstatement to cycling fans, but it was spontaneous and this felt like an enormous victory to me. For years Iíve devoted everything I have to building this career. Receiving that sort of recognition from a literary group was a major validation of the course Iíve taken.

And as this is your second novel how do you feel about your success as a writer?
Yes, The Race, was my second novel. The Pendulumís Path was my first. It got great reviews but has yet to find a wide audience. In America 150,000 new books are published every year, so the odds against breaking through the way that The Race has are astronomical. My new novel, The Tour, is poised to build from there. Itís been very exciting as weíve passed one benchmark after another. Making a living writing books about things I love is a dream come true. The coolest part, though, has been the readerís reactions. A few days ago I got a note from a family of four who told me that theyíd read my book aloud by flashlight on their summer trip. They thanked me for helping to create such a memorable moment for them. Iíve got nothing at all against cash, but somehow that sort of compensation is even better than money. Readers send me inspiring e-mails daily.

We noticed last year during your promotion tour that you were regularly on TV and radio doing interviews and as an ďExpertĒ on the tour Ö what was that likeÖ .did you ever expect that this would happen to you?
Great question! No, I didnít really see that coming, though I obviously wanted to take advantage of any media opportunity I could in order to give my book the best shot I could. When my initial interviews went well I was able to leverage them into more and more prominent spots. Pretty soon I was doing regular appearances on CNN. I came very close to getting some segments on national television networks. Maybe next year. Rupert from the Hello Deli on David Letterman is a big fan of my books, so maybe heíll pull some strings.

As an athlete do you bring a different view to your books about cycling than you think an author who isnít an athlete would or could?
No question about it. One of my steps in writing books is putting various versions of my manuscript through critique clinics with my writing group. Some of those people donít have any athletic experience at all, and Iíve often been surprised by their misunderstandings about the world of sports. A side effect of working with them has been figuring out how to write a book thatís more accessible to people who havenít yet been exposed to cycling. As a result, I believe these books are capable of introducing a completely new audience to cycling.
Thereís also another side to this. Two-time Tour de France finisher Marty Jemison has been an invaluable resource for me in writing these novels. His athletic achievements dwarf mine, and he knows exactly what it feels like to be in the midst of competing in these sorts of races. Heís been willing to read multiple drafts of both books and spend hours helping me perfect the telling of my stories. Martyís critical input turned these into far better books than I could ever have written without his help.

So were you planning a sequel to The Race after you finished it? In other words what motivated you to follow up with another book on bike racing instead of another topic like your first novel, The Pendulums Path?

It never even occurred to me to write a sequel to The Race until readers started asking what happened to Ben Barnes next. Thatís when I started wondering myself, and slowly a story came together.

What made you confront the ďDopingĒ issue in the novel?
My attempt in The Race was to tell more than a cycling story. I wanted to explore the motivations of a character in a pressurized situation. Similarly, in The Tour I needed something beyond the outcome of a bicycle race to make the story worth writing. Doping seemed like a good choice.

I started out thinking that I knew what I wanted to say about it, but my research changed my opinions significantly. It turned out to be a much more complex book than Iíd originally anticipated. Itís been interesting to see the reactions early readers are having to it. If The Tour helps readers understand some of the dilemmas pro athletes are faced with and moves that discussion forward then Iíll be very satisfied.

How did you do your research for the new novel?
Thatís a very complex question. Interviewing athletes, reading relevant articles and books, and writing test scenes for critique were all big parts of it, but there was so much more. For instance, designing the stages of a theoretical Tour de France is no easy task. I used Google Earth and other tools to imagine potential stages.

I wrote early drafts of the manuscript knowing that once I traveled the actual roads I was going to come upon complications, but I figured Iíd just have to deal with them when I got to that point. Because I had commitments with the press during July I wasnít able to fly to Paris until the day after last yearís Tour de France ended. I rented a car and headed off on a solo eight day marathon around the perimeter of the country snapping photographs and taking notes. Along the way I discovered that some of the stages Iíd written about made no sense at all, but amazingly, each time something didnít work out, something even better than what Iíd imagined presented itself. What an incredible trip that was!

Every one of the locations I described in the book actually exists. Even the weather I described is the weather I experienced. It was a gargantuan task to cover so much terrain in so little time, and I barely made it back to Paris in time for my flight home.

One of the critiquers who read the final draft told me that a location where I described Ben discovering an abandoned tractor in a clear-cut field couldnít possibly exist. I sent him the photos. He replied, ďWow. Itís exactly like you described it.Ē

Dave Shields doing research running alongside Heras, Armstrong, Beloki, and Tyler in this Graham Watson photo at the 2003 Tour de France.

Did some of your research shock you in how prevalent doping is or did it give you another viewpoint that it might not be as prevalent or endemic as some believe?
Actually, both. I learned some scary stories about drug use, but I also came away convinced that there are clean athletes who are accomplishing incredible things under a cloud of accusation. Unfortunately, there are people who cast suspicion upon any accomplishment that exceeds their concept of whatís possible. To me itís very unfair to suggest that someone is cheating simply because they are getting results.

ďHow realĒ should we take the context of your treatment of the doping issue in The Tour?
Itís as real as I knew how to make it. I presented a spectrum of athletes, each of whom made different choices. Each character comes with his or her own definition of whatís right and wrong. Thatís how it works in the real world. Iím not saying that every person justifies their actions as being right, but the vast majority of people believe that their actions are justifiable.

Did you consult pro riders who had contact during their careers with the seamy underbelly of doping in the Peloton?
Yes. Iím not going to go into detail about what I learned from whom, though. My book is ultimately a work of fiction. If creating this novel enabled me to express things in ways that they might not get expressed elsewhere then Iím happy about that. Or if it causes people who might never have been interested to take a look at the issues, I think thatís a good thing.

In doing the research did you observe a change in attitude or frequency of abuse, in other words is the problem getting worse or better in the past few years?
Itís pretty tough to compare the level of doping across eras, or even to characterize exactly where it is right now. Iím not certain anybody can answer that. What I do know is that there will always be cheaters, and there will always be ethical competitorsÖ not just in sport but in business, education, religion, and every other aspect of human activity. In that sense pro cycling is a microcosm of the real world. Thatís what has made it such a rich fictional topic for me.

Do you see doping as a ďHealth IssueĒ or more an issue of ďCheatingĒ?
The health issues are very important. Some would argue that itís every individualís choice what they put into their body, but itís actually a lot more complicated than that. Hopefully the book makes some strong arguments as to why. Similarly, I hope the book makes a compelling case about why cheating matters. Iíve met intelligent people who argue that it no longer does. There are real dangers in becoming so jaded.

In a recent statement, Euskaltel-Euskadi manager Manuel Madariaga (in commenting about Roberto Heras receiving a ban) said, "It's a strong blow for cycling, and the solutions that they are taking aren't the right ones. Doping will not cease with more sanctions or prosecutions."
Whatís your viewpoint on his statement?

In my opinion the athletes have been put into a tough situation. Time is a major factor for them. If they donít produce results, they know they become replaceable commodities. Most of them have very little leverage. Iím not speaking only of cyclists here. Virtually all elite athletes are facing these challenges. Weíve already seen at least three drug related issues in the Turin Olympics. My research for this book was by no means limited to the cycling world.

By the time anybody reaches the pro level in any sport theyíve invested an incredible amount into their career. If someone comes along and convinces them that performance-enhancing drugs are the key to reaching the next level I donít think it should surprise any of us that some will take that step. If they do and they get caught then the punishment comes down almost entirely on the athlete. The facilitators simply move on to another prospect. In many cases, these facilitators are in a position to make big money.

The BALCO scandal is a good example of the inequities, even though itís one of the few instances where participants other than the athletes have been sanctioned. Now that the smoke has cleared the punishments are very revealing. Some athletes are serving essentially career ending suspensions. Other athletes, rightly or wrongly, now have permanent stigmas attached to their accomplishments. Meanwhile, Victor Conte-- the mastermind behind the whole thing, was sentenced to four months prison and four months home confinement. It will be interesting to learn what heís up to a year from now. Iíll bet many of the affected athletes would be willing to trade places with him from that standpoint.

If you could get the UCI and all pro riders in a room to offer a plan that would lead us out of this condition what would you say to them?

A group like that would be far more qualified to solve this issue than I am. If my book ultimately facilitates the sort of discussion youíre suggesting Iíd be very happy.

Through special arrangements with the Publisher "The Tour" is available for delivery before its release date to the readers of the Daily Peloton. Included is a special offer if you any three of Dave's novels you get a fourth for free.
To purchase follow the link on the graphic below.

Don't miss the chat with Dave Shields and Marty Jemison on the Eve of the Tour of California this Saturday at 11am Pacific time in the Daily Peloton Chat Room.
No registration is required to participate, just type a name and join in.

Related Articles
The Tour: A Book Review by Marty Jemison
The Tour Chapter 1 of the Sequel to the Novel
The Tour - Tour de France Novel - Meet the Author

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