11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2010
This would be a fascinating book for its contents alone, but turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts, as is clearly evidenced by the other reviews arrayed here. These testify both to its polarizing effect and the amazing and very human extent of the ability of people to stand firm to their own prejudices in the light of often powerful contradictory evidence.
As a casual cycling fan enamoured, like many, of "Le Tour" I had long been curious about the depth of the antagonism between Lance Armstrong and the French press. As an innocent bystander I struggled to understand the intensity and longevity of a cold war punctuated by Armstrong's vehement insistence on never having failed a drugs test against an apparently orchestrated campaign of rumour and innuendo. The question, I always wondered, was whether there was actually a smoking gun.
Viewed from a completely neutral point of view, but with a good deal of hindsight, the basic facts about doping in cycling during late 1990's to 2000's, the period where Armstrong reigned supreme, seem very simple:
* It was a period of revolution in drug use and in particular in the use of EPO, a blood supplement which, unlike many previous alternatives such as steroids or even human growth hormone, produced an immediate and directly measurable improvement in performance by directly allowing users to absorb greater proportions of their oxygen intake and thus directly allowing more efficient use of the muscles
* EPO was, at the time undetectable in any doping tests.
Taken together, the clear inference here is that during this period cyclists could administer EPO with impunity (other than significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke). Circumstantial evidence for the fact that this was precisely what happened is given by the fact that during this time the average speed of the Tour continued to increase year on year.
The two questions that then arise directly in relation to Armstrong were: did he dope? And; is there any proof that he doped? These are the questions this book ostensibly sets out to answer. Does it achieve this? Well, yes and no, but in asking the questions it certainly raises many more.
Where the book is successful in its aims is in respect of the factual evidence regarding EPO testing. The book clearly establishes that Armstrong never tested positive during his victory years but, following the subsequent development of an effective test for EPO, a number of samples contributed anonymously during his victory years were tested and found to be positive. A significant proportion of these samples was subsequently identified, albeit by a wholly unethical and possibly illegal sequence of events, to be attributable to Armstrong. Unsurprisingly, it is an understatement to suggest that Armstrong either accepts this version of events or, as a man not unknown to resort to legal action, is willing to allow this into the wider public domain. He is clearly not a fan of Walsh's book.
The book is less successful both in analysing and detailing physiological changes in Armstrong's body during his cycling career and as a record of what various people have said regarding Armstrong's comments on and attitude to drug use, in particular his own use or otherwise. In the case of the physical changes, Walsh generally does not have enough direct evidence to make any watertight case in relation to his opinions, although there are a number of reasonably interesting suppositions. In truth, though, this material is really a red herring if the author's evidence on direct drug testing is accepted. Contrarily, if the reader does not accept this, he or she is unlikely to change their mind based on the discussion of the rider's physical changes presented here.
Where the author is least successful, but paradoxically in some ways most interesting, is in the presentation of personal testimony from people who know or have known Armstrong. Amongst other things this includes reportage of alleged direct quotes from Armstrong regarding his own drug use. Unfortunately, in common with any spoken evidence, this material proves to be something of a chimera, generating a series of corroborations, refutations, claims and counter-claims. In reality all this serves to do is provide the type of smoke screen that experience has sadly shown too often allows drug users in sports to maintain a degree of plausibility. In some ways the author might be accused of a degree of naivety in that this is the very ground on which Armstrong has fought most effectively and for so long.
So, overall, does this book provide the smoking gun? In effect, and in as much as it can do, it does. Again with hindsight, the question that one has to ask is whether a smoking gun is actually required? The truth, palatable or otherwise, is that in order to compete during the period in which Armstrong raced most effectively, a cyclist would simply have to take EPO. Looking back, it is more sensible to ask whether there were any leading cyclists who WEREN'T taking EPO and the answer is probably none.
Of the other issues raised in the book, the lingering questions are; why has Armstrong never admitted taking EPO? And, more potently, does he, in his quieter moments, accept or even understand that his actions amounted to cheating? The potency of this final question is rendered even more relevant by recent events surrounding Floyd Landis, who spent a number of years and several hundred thousand dollars protesting his innocence right up until the moment he admitted his systematic drug usage.
So, does this book tell us much about Lance Armstrong personally beyond the case for the prosecution? Clearly, the answer is yes. This is a portrait of a man in denial but also who is recognisable as a man with an unquenchable will to win. He is not always presented as being very likeable and indeed at times he is not at all likeable. This doesn't necessarily come across as being an inaccurate portrayal; he clearly did what it took to win and if that required the use of EPO to compete on a level playing field, so be it. Again, such ambition inevitably results in casualties and broken friendships along the way. If he did take EPO then he certainly wasn't alone and, considering the fate of other such as Marco Pantani, tragically documented in Matt Rendell's exhaustive biography (which reads more like a pharmacological handbook), from a purely human perspective we should be grateful that he seems equipped for survival.
In truth, Lance Armstrong is a product both of the times he has lived through and of his chosen sport. He is no superman but shows a number of all too human failings, which are better illustrated here than in the many publications following the "official" line that have found their way onto the market. Ultimately, if you want to understand the man, this is how he has to be considered. The book also provides a realistic insight into doping in sport; it is rarely a clear-cut situation. And before Armstrong is judged, consider this; did anyone suggest at the time that Lasse Viren's use of medical "technology" should invalidate his Olympic achievements?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2012
Nothing surprises me anymore, however do we really expect riders to climb 5 Cols in a day and average over 25mph on pasta and rice. Doping has always gone on in the professional continental peloton however this takes it to a new level. The UCI along with the press need to take a long hard look at their own conduct and ask the question `' Why didn't we stop it, was Armstrong so powerful that the damage he would of done to the credibility and sponsorship of the sport been so great that they turned the other way . What about those who tried to race clean, they were abandoned and ridiculed. This book only confirms the fears that most race fans felt but didn't want to admit. Cycling is and always has been the DIRTIEST OF ALL PROFESIONAL SPORTS IN THE WORLD. Is the sport any cleaner today? We can only hope so but somehow I doubt it. If the authorities are so driven to cleaning the sport up why only a short term ban. The answers is simple we would have very few top riders left in the sport. Professional cycling never has been or will it be serious about eradicating doping, if it was it would implement the following, if caught and proven beyond all reasonable doubt on the evidence presented that you're guilty of doping then your band for life. Maybe that's the next question to be asked of the UCI. Read the book and make your own mind up, all I can say is I'm glad I was never good enough to turn professional because I'm only human and who knows I could have been tempted if it meant keeping my job and paying my mortgage.
What makes this book different is that the man in question wanted to win so badly that he would go to any length and those around him went along for the ride and enjoyed the good times that came with the victories. I never believed Armstrong was clean during his career. This book confirms it but then I didn't believe any of the greats before him were particularly clean either. The evidence against Armstrong seems beyond doubt, and as the saying go's `'you reap what you sow
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2012
I was a Lance fan in the very early days but i the more i read the more it seemed this guy was not only a doper and a cheat, he was also a powerful bully who tried and succeeded in trashing the reputations of innocent people who spoke the truth. I have no doubts this is the definitive account of the scandal. Brilliantly written, this book lays it all out. It's breathtaking stuff even for someone involved in the sport. For those who think that drug taking was necessary and therefore acceptable, read the accounts of Lemond and Bessoni.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 May 2010
I was advised by a cycling friend to read this book, as the journalist David Walsh has obviously spent a long time gathering both facts and opinion from a wide number of different individuals about the scale of doping in professional cycling. I think, having read this book, that one has to be concerned about how 'clean' are any professional riders within the modern peloton!!
The book is written in a journalistic style and does take some effort to follow the sequence of the narrative and does jump backwards and forwards in time which is often confusing.
I think the book is as near to the getting to the truth as possible, without a public confession of guilt from the perpetrators themselves. Is Lance clean? Was Landis innocent? Read the book and come to your own conclusions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2012
This well written and meticulously researched book blows the lid off the whole dirty can of worms of pro cycling of the last 20 years. David Walsh shines a bright light into the dark and hidden world of the doping scandals that have besmirched the reputations of so many of the top names and teams in the professional road cycle racing world.
With the disgracing of Lance Armstrong, the cycling public is finally catching up with the reality of the doped-up peleton of recent years, and there may just now be a chance at last to clean up the sport. If this happens, we will be in no small measure indebted to the fine investigative journalism of David Walsh. Though first published in 2007, this is the book that uncovers the truth of not only the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs, but also the ruthless drive, ambition and bully-boy tactics used to win cycling's biggest prizes and to attain the riches and fame that went with them.
The coded language, the 'omertà' wall of silence, the secretive meetings with shadowy doctors, the interviews with spouses, friends, soigneurs, mechanics, ex-racers are all carefully checked and collated to build a damning picture of a corrupted sport where the only way to win the big races was to dope.
This is essential, painful reading for anyone who loves cycling but who wants to understand the scandals of recent years. Well done David Walsh, I'd give it 6 stars if I could.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2009
Another addition to the growing body of publications offering an honest assessment of the realities of professional cycling. As a lot of the negative reviews of this book indicate, there are still many people out there who would either prefer to pretend there's no doping or buy into the omerto - the culture of closing ranks, saying nothing and castigating those who blow the whistle.
Whether you love or loathe Lance Armstrong, this is a worthwhile read purely for what it offers in terms of insight into the sport and its culture. Yes, much of the "evidence" is circumstantial, but if you read around the topic, you'll know why - the sport is rotten to the core, from the UCI to many of the cyclists themselves. You only have to look at the treatment of those who speak out to read the attitude.
Walsh highlights the effect of performance enhancing drugs on cyclists' overall health through relating the tragedies of Marco Pantani and Jose Maria Jiminez's untimely deaths - it's a simple reality that pro-cyclists who get a taste for illicit substances while racing find themselves drawn to drugs for recreational purposes too.
Contrary to what many people say, Lance has not been "vindicated" legally. If you read this book, you'll know why. There's also evidence that, had Lance's samples been tagged by testers, his cancer could have been spotted sooner - even Armstrong "boasts" that the elevated levels of beta-hCG in his body were ridiculously high, showing how aggressive his particular cancer was. Funny thing, then, that none of his drugs tests that year were questioned - beta-hCG is also a Class A banned substance that has similar effects to anabolic steroids....
This is not the only book that shows LA to be a manipulative bully who wants full control over everyone and everything around him and seeks to destroy people who question him. His treatment of riders in the peleton who had blown the whistle on drugs shows a side to Armstrong that many may not be aware of. It's a great pity that someone who can offer so much inspiration to others should have such a twisted opinion on who it is exactly that's wrecking the sport.
If you're interested in cycling, warts and all, this is a great read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2012
I confess I used to be a Lance fan: I was inspired by his tenacious comeback; I wanted it to be true.
BUT over the years, doubts arose from various events and I became so disillusioned after 2006 that I did not bother to attend the London Grand Depart in 2007.
This book is the first time I have seen all the details re LA, Tyler Hamilton, & Floyd pulled together; I would heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to know whatt on earth was going on back then
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2007
I am an avowed Armstrong fan, I've read all his books and was wearing the Live Strong band before they became a fashion statement but I no longer believe with the naivety I once had. Over the last two years I have read nearly every book on cycling, watched countless videos and even ridden with several very successful ex-pros. The conclusion I have come to is that to dominate the Tour like he did for 7 years when many of his competitors (and ex-team mates) have been proven to have been doping stretches credibility. Yes a great deal of the evidence in this book is circumstantial but the feeling grows whilst you are reading that it is all too good to be true. Armstrong remains a great athlete and an inspiration for many cancer sufferers but whiter than white and always clean? I don't think so, not any more.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2010
An interesting book. After reading Lance Armstrong's version first I then read this about two years later, the contrast in viewpoints is, as you would expect, great.Which one you believe depends on your viewpoint and pre-existning beliefs. On balance I think David Walsh makes some good points well and backs it up with proof, of sorts, I stll believe,or hope, that there are some clean riders out there or some who dope less than others but from other sports I have taken part in the prevalence of drugs is increasing even at the lowest of levels.
Read the book with an open mind but remember what he says about blood doping at the LA Games,organised at a National level did take place.
on 7 April 2013
The book gives an insight into cycling and the extent of doping. It is not the complete story, rather an oblique view through a number of specific people working in the sport. Each from a different perspective, together they give the reader the opportunity to form a view of what the whole story might reasonably be.
I find it hard to imagine how this could continue for so long when there was so much performance data to support the doping claim; how so many influential people could know and nothing happen to change for so long; why people could die and the program's continue even more widely.
It is a damning moral indictment of administrators, sponsors, some riders, authorities more widely.
Maybe cycling needs a truth and reconciliation commission to overcome the lack of belief? Or maybe some people, now the truth is emerging, should face the full weight of civil and criminal law?
I hope it happens soon. If I could be one champion in sport, it would be King of the Mountains in the Tour de France. I wish I could unequivocally believe with innocent admiration, as I did when young.
So overall not a great book. But fascinating and showing how the facts, however strong, and even now, can be denied by powerful people.
The great book on this subject will be written soon Mr. Walsh?