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Doping destroys the story at the heart of cycling


Suggesting that the Tour de France should lead the way for other sports by permitting drug enhancement, as your recent Editorial 'A sporting chance' (Nature 448, 512; 2007) does, misses an important point. You fail to recognize the reason why people drive 10 hours to watch the regional final of college basketball, wake up in the middle of the night to watch the inevitable penalty shoot-out at the end of an England World Cup football match or even hop on the fast train to see the yellow jersey lead the Tour de France on to the Champs-Élysées. Genuine fans of sport don't just follow their teams to see sportsmen and sportswomen make great plays; they do so to see stories unfold.

To understand why pharmacological enhancements should never be allowed in cycling, you need to understand that all spectator sports thrive by selling simple stories to their fans. The cycling story is that, with great talent and after years of training, the best riders ride faster than the others at the very limits of natural human endurance. In the Tour de France, this story has been told and retold for 100 years — over stages, tours and careers. It describes the overall winner, the best hill climber and even the failed solo breakaway.

How could cycling's story survive if pharmacological enhancements were allowed? Even if the time comes when botulinum toxin injections are available from vending machines, doping should never be allowed in cycling.

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Riley, S. Doping destroys the story at the heart of cycling. Nature 449, 281 (2007).

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