The Bike List

Seven Deadly Sins; my pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh £9

Tested by Neil Watterson, tester for The Bike List

We're all familiar with the story of Lance Armstrong. The Texan who battled cancer then conquered the Tour de France, winning seven times before being exposed as a drugs cheat. This is the story of the man instrumental in setting the record straight, David Walsh.

David is a journalist and had a particular passion for cycling, meeting Lance Armstrong early in the cyclist's career. He liked him and thought he had a great talent and a hunger to win. But when Lance returned to the sport after his cancer, David saw him as a different person - beating a life-threatening illness can give you a renewed vigour for life, but David could not believe the improvement in Lance's abilities were solely down to that - no-one could become that good so quickly.

Other journalists, though, could believe it. After the Festina drugs scandal of the 1998 Tour, they wanted to believe in the Texan. He was recovering from cancer in 1998 so wasn't implicated in the scandal. He says he's clean (he never failed a blood test) and would be seen as the saviour of the tour - 'cancer victim wins Tour' would be a cracking headline.

But while the other journalists were happy to believe in Lance - or at least not to question it too much - David wanted to know the truth and set out to find it. He started asking questions, and that annoyed Lance. The champion brushed away suggestions of drug use as an attempt by others to undermine the fantastic achievements he had made, without any evidence to back up the accusations. Armstrong made it all sound so plausible. But David wasn't deterred and kept looking.

This book documents the challenges faced by David as he sought to show Armstrong for what he was - someone who used performance-enhancing drugs to help him with the Tour de France seven times.

It explains the search for those who could shed light on the situation - those who were close to Armstrong. And in many ways, this book is for them, a chronicle of what they had to endure. David could have stopped digging at any point and walked away - but the pressure put on his sources was unbearable at times: threats to their businesses and their reputations.

They had the most to lose, and though some may have waivered, they wanted to explain what they knew: that Armstrong's victories weren't built on talent alone. If you've followed the Tour de France for a long time, you'll recognise plenty of the names referenced in the book as David paints the story of how it came together. As a casual follower of the Tour, what struck me was the general acceptance that drugs were being used on the event - competitors used them because everyone else was. It wasn't so much of gaining a competitive advantage, but levelling the playing field.

Then there's the comments issued by the teams along the lines of not wanting to talk about drugs because those days are all in the past. The glory days of doping may, indeed, be in the past, but that shouldn't stop questions being asked if an individual or team has improved markedly. And that's not just something that relates just to cycling - when athletes are asked about drug use, rather than answering questions, you often hear a response along the lines of 'why does everyone think winners are doing drugs?'

Most books on cycling and the Tour focus on the event itself. This book delves into its dirty underworld and begs the question: is pro-cycling now free from drugs? I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

At a glance

Verdict A tribute to those willing to tell the truth, no matter what the repercussions.
Value

Simon & Schuster says:

The story of Lance Armstrong - the cyclist who recovered from testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France a record seven times, the man who wrote a bestselling and inspirational account of his life, the charitable benefactor - seemed almost too good to be true. And it was.

As early as Armstrong's first victory on the Tour in 1999, Sunday Times journalist David Walsh had reason to think that the incredible performances we were seeing from Armstrong were literally too good to be true. Based on insider information and dogged research, he began to unmask the truth. Cycling's biggest star used every weapon in his armoury to protect his name. But he could not keep everyone silent.

In the autumn of 2012, the USADA published a damning report on Armstrong that resulted in the American being stripped of his seven Tour victories and left his reputation in shreds. Walsh's long fight to reveal the truth had been vindicated. This book tells the compelling story of one man's struggle to bring that truth to light against all the odds.

Book Details:

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK - June 2013
464 pages 
ISBN 9781471127557