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The Bullet who showed his metal on the Tour de France

  • SaulSport2
The Tour de France, one of the most-watched sporting events with an average TV viewership of 2.6 billion, currently has cycling fans fastened to their sofas.
by SAUL KAMIONSKY | Jul 18, 2019

One of these spectators is New Yorker Doug Shapiro, 59, who competed in the world’s most popular multi-staged race in 1985.

He finished 74th out of a field of 220 riders in spite of not being in the tour competing for a place. His role in cycling parlance was to be a domestique for Joop Zoetemelk, who had come second in the Tour de France six times. “I had to keep [Joop] out of the wind, bring him food and drink from the car, keep him at the front coming into climbs,” Shapiro says.

“Joop didn’t speak English, and my ‘Nederlands’ wasn’t the best, but most of the team spoke English. I found that I got stronger and stronger as the race went on. It was very rewarding for me,” he says.

In this year’s race, many of the favourites are also hoping for that last spurt of strength. They include Geraint “G” Thomas, Nairo “Nairoman” Quintana, Vincenzo “The Shark” Nibali, and Rigoberto “Rigonator” Urán.

Shapiro, like this year’s favourites, also has a nickname, “The Bullet”. This weapon-like sobriquet was due to the immense power he possessed in his armoury as a hill climber and sprinter.

Shapiro caught the cycling bug as a youngster in spite of initially being a keen footballer. “I grew up just outside New York City, and played soccer, like most kids,” says Shapiro, who was the third ever American to finish the tour, following Jock Boyer, and three-time winner Greg LeMond.

“When I was 13, during the off season, our coach suggested that we do another sport to keep fit. There was a German language professor in the school who ran a cycling club, so I joined it, and we went to see a race. I was like, ‘Wow! I want to do this’.”

The following week, he rode that same race and won it. That was just the beginning.

Shapiro was a member of the American Olympic Team in 1980 and 1984 respectively. However, he was not able to participate in the former due to United States’ boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics. For this, he and his teammates received a Congressional Gold Medal at the White House.

With a medal in his trophy cabinet, an emboldened Shapiro went on to win what was then American’s top cycling stage race, the Coors Classic, in 1984, and he describes this as “probably my biggest achievement”.

“Many of the riders who rode the LA Olympics were there, and the likes of the 7-Eleven team were riding too. There was a guy called Bob [Eucher], he was a talent scout for Kwantum, and he saw my performance. That led to a ride with a composite team in the Olympia Tour of Holland, where I went well.”

This race was so highly cherished that, in the subsequent two years, it was won by LeMond and five-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault. The latter would go on to win the 1985 tour ahead of LeMond and Stephen Roche.

Shapiro’s cycling career has been dogged by some “very bad accidents”.

“In 1987, I was out with Eric Heiden on the bike,” Shapiro says. “We were on the way to the cyclocross nationals, test riding some new tyres. I slipped, came down, and broke my femur. Eric had just started at medical school, and I might have died were it not for him being there.”

He was even more unlucky the following year. “I was in the break of four at the Coors Classic in Reno, and the four of us came down on a corner. I was okay, but as I got up, the bunch rode into me at full tilt,” Shapiro says. “I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t walk, and my leg has never been the same since. I came back in ’89. My last race was in September of that year, and I came second.”

A year later, however, Shapiro was back in the sport, albeit in a different role. He acted as the technical advisor and writer for the video Cycling for Success, produced by the 7-Eleven bike team. The video was the first of its kind to offer cycling safety tips and techniques.

Today, Shapiro, who resides in Marin County, California, owns and operates Shapiro & Associates. “I’m a crime-scene investigator in situations where cyclists and cars have collided. But I also keep in touch with guys like Chris Carmichael and Bob Roll, and watch all the races.”

Shapiro is also a public speaker, and has hosted many cycling training camps and educational seminars for bike shops, cycling fanatics, and racers of all levels.

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