Physical fatigue is in the brain as much as in the body



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Physical fatigue is in the brain as much as in the body - Psyche

It is 18 July 1997, at stage 12 of the Tour de France, and Richard Virenque, of the French team Festina, is preparing for the 55-km individual time trial in Saint-Étienne. These trials aren’t his specialism and, having heard of a new drug that will supposedly deliver him a spurt of energy, he asks his physiotherapist, Willy Voet, to procure the ‘magic potion’.

Voet is soon in possession of a small jar of a mysterious white liquid, which he is told to inject into Virenque’s buttocks before the event. On race day, Voet faithfully delivers an injection – and the results are breathtaking. Virenque goes head-to-head with his great rival Jan Ullrich for much of the race. Although the German eventually wins, Virenque is only 3 minutes and 4 seconds behind him – a much better result that day than he could have imagined. ‘God I felt good!’ he later told Voet. ‘That stuff’s just amazing.’

Little did Virenque know that there was no active ingredient in the magic potion. Before delivering the injection, Voet – who feared trying a new substance mid-tournament – had swapped the mysterious white substance for a glucose solution. ‘There is no substitute for self-belief,’ the physiotherapist would later write in his autobiography, Breaking the Chain (2001).