From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France Hardcover – 7 Jan 2013
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About the Author
David Walsh is chief sports writer with The Sunday Times (London). A four-time Irish Sportswriter of the Year and a three-time U.K. Sportswriter of the Year, he is married with seven children and lives in Cambridge, England. He is co-author of L.A. Confidential: The Secrets of Lance Armstrong.
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I'm not sure where I stand in relation to the drugs, to be honest. I began to realise by the early 1990s that something wasn't quite right in the sport. By the late 1990s, and in the light of the 'Festina Affair' of the 1998 Tour de France, I had to face it, as a fan, that most of the sport was rife with cheating, and that it was the cheating that had shaped it into the form it had become; fast-paced, somewhat dangerous, exciting.
The jury is still out on Lance Armstrong's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, to be fair to Armstrong, the members of the jury haven't even taken their seats. The knowing question is usually something like: What made a relatively unsuccessful also-ran into a seven-times TdF winner after the seeming end of his career at the onset of testicular cancer? The book makes it plain that, on Armstrong's return to the sport, it was obvious to him and his manager, Johan Bruyneel (often seen as one of the major villains of the piece), that there was a 'two-speed race' - dopers in the fast lane and the rest of the bunch ten minutes behind. No matter how hard they trained, dieted, raced or rested, clean riders were destined to failure. The book gives a very vivid picture of this, the choice faced by Armstrong and his largely American cohorts, and how they dealt with it.
The book is very much tied up with the rise of the Americans in cycling, hence the title's seemingly narrow focus. At every point, from first US TdF winner Greg Lemond's observations of how crazy the pace had become, to prime mover Armstrong and high-profile disaster careers such as those of Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, who rode alongside Armstrong, to whistle-blowers like Frankie Andreu, it is Americans who feature prominently. The revelation I was looking for (though I'm sure it was obvious to people more well-informed) was that doping could have gone on quietly in the sport if left to the Europeans - the Festina Affair being a mixture of either bad luck or, it is suggested, a plot by a rival team. The Americans' apparent zeal for the practice took it up to another level, and blew it all wide apart, leading to suspicion aimed at the rather unlikeable Armstrong (who wants to be admired, I think, rather than popular), positive tests and ruined careers for the hapless Hamilton and Landis and, finally, crises of conscience for riders like Andreu.
There are books on cycling that only cycling fans would be bothered with, or would understand, come to that. This is not one of them. David Walsh has a fluid style that mixes journalism with a slight literary flourish, and is very readable - I got through this in a day or so. Consequently, I recommend this book to any reader, as a tale not only of doping in a sport that, let's face it, is off the radar of most people, even for those three weeks in July in France, but also a story of modern greed, achievement, dilemma and moral choices.
Before I read this book, I believed that Armstrong had doped, but I wasn't too concerned about it because most of the top contenders in the race had done the same. I believed in effect that it was a "level playing field". The book clearly shows that that was not the case. There were clean riders who were denied podium places by their rivals' chemically enhanced performances. And the quality of the various drugs programmes varied. For example, as the author mentions, Dr Michelle Ferrari was prohibited by the terms of his contract with Armstrong, from working with any of Armstrong's main Tour rivals. The Tour was not just a test of the riders' cycling ability, but also of the expertise of their doping advisors and the organisation and timing of the individual instances of drug use or blood doping.
The book also portrayed the characters involved in this story in a realistic light. From reading newspaper reports I had thought that Jonathan Vaughters and Frankie Andreu were vindictive enemies of Lance Armstrong who would stop at nothing to discredit him. The author shows that is far from the case. Both of these ex-riders are committed to making professional cycling free of doping, but are reluctant to provide any testimony against Armstrong. Frankie Andreu's wife Betsy (a woman with no axe to grind but who was called a liar in The Guardian newspaper by journalist Donald McRae because she testified against Armstrong) comes across as somewhat rigid and inflexible but totally committed, personally and through her religious beliefs, to telling the truth. The portrait of Floyd Landis as shy, awkward and inarticulate is entirely believable.
What I missed in the book was any real explanation of how the "medical" programmes worked. How did the doping riders escape detection for so long? Even today, notwithstanding all the recent revelations, there are journalists writing that Armstrong must be innocent because he never failed a drugs test. As this book shows, this is incorrect, but it is extraordinary how he managed to come clean through so many. The author probably felt that this is not his area of expertise, and so avoid discussing it.
The book is a well-written, clear and factual account of one of the most disgraceful aspects of modern sport.
Read Armstrong's denials and some of the reviews on this page and you do realise how unwilling we have become, as a society, to accept that our heroes can be less than perfect. This book shows that LA was far from saintly but an amazing and fascinating human and athlete all the same. Its clear from this book though that modern cycling and sport as a whole are a serious mess and we need to have a serious rethink about the celeb money-culture that dominates them.
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