|By Charlie Melk
It's All About the Book - Image Courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers
When you hear the name Lance Armstrong, chances are there is already an image of him formed in your mind, such is the iconic nature of his persona. However, in Lance Armstrong’s War, Daniel Coyle does much to quell the notion that either extreme in the continuum of his public persona is the real man, yet he leaves it up to the reader to make up his or her mind as to just who Lance Armstrong really is. A persona, after all, is only a mask. Coyle’s book digs much deeper than the surface appearances and trivialities we’re inundated with on a daily basis.
Students of human nature probably wouldn’t be at all surprised by this, but as Coyle shows us through many first-hand examples, Lance is a very normal person in many ways, and not a saint. On the other side, the perceptions of him as a heartless tyrant and technologically depraved automaton are equally exaggerated in most cases. But as Floyd Landis candidly puts it—“He seems so simple from a distance, but the closer you get, the more you realize—this is one very, very complicated guy.” He is a true Sphinx of our time and place in history.
One thing that isn’t so normal about Lance, perhaps, is his insatiable need to be the best, or as Chris Carmichael says—his ambition at the Tour isn’t to break records, it’s “ . . . to kick the shit out of everyone.” Michele Ferrari has his view on this subject too—“It is simple, no? Lance wishes to swallow the world.” And again, Lance’s good friend, John “College” Korioth, weighs in on the matter—“In sports or business or anywhere there’s always the question of who’s the alpha, who’s the meanest, who’s the toughest? And it’s Lance. Always Lance.”
Before reading this book, it seemed to me that anything I had ever been exposed to, concerning Lance, fell into two fairly well-defined categories—deferentially fawning or aggressively attacking—both despite the truth, and both to irrational and unbelievable degrees. What Daniel Coyle has done with this book is truly valuable to any cycling fan—even if you’re not a fan of Lance.
You see, this book doesn’t pick sides—Lance Armstrong’s War is an objective reflection of what makes him tick, warts and all. Daniel Coyle uprooted his family, kids and all, from Alaska to Girona, Spain to be in the middle of the action. He followed U.S. Postal to many races in his “dusty blue Peugeot van with a mattress in the back.” He was there folks, and with a mostly all access pass in many cases. It’s also fair to note that the project would never have happened without Lance’s cooperation—a significant point worth taking into account.
This book deals with personal issues and the focus is very tight and intense. Within its pages, we get to know “Planet Lance” as well as his “satellites”; characters such as Michele Ferrari, Chris Carmichael, Johan Bruyneel, Freddy Viane, Floyd Landis and Sheryl Crow, as well as the oft-publicized "F-1 Group," a conglomerate of sponsors who are willing to back Lance's insatiable quest to possess only the best equipment. More than that, though, we learn the three simple rules that all of his satellites take to heart: “Keep. Lance. Informed.”
Also thoroughly covered is a lot of background information about some of Armstrong's more tenacious detractors, such as David Walsh, Pierre Ballister, and Fillipo Simeoni, not to mention his strongest rivals in the quest for number 6 (and now number 7, too, as a reasonable projection)- the T-Mobile trio of Jan Ullrich, Andreas Kloden and Alexandre Vinokourov - and Iban Mayo, who Bruyneel describes as " . . . the one we don't understand," and whose 2004 Dauphine Libere exploits Armstrong still refers to as "The time Mayo tried to kill me.".
Relevant historical issues in the annals of cycling, such as a brief history of doping in the sport, the unwritten rules of the peloton, and the significant role superstition plays in such a dangerous career as professional cycling are also explored in a truly engaging style. To the cycling cognoscenti Coyle’s style may seem a bit repetitive and slightly uninformed, but only at certain points and never in a prohibitive sense. In the main, his effort here is stellar.
I highly recommend this book to any fan of professional cycling—this isn’t just for the Lance crowd. In fact, some Lance fans may be disillusioned. However, anyone who truly wants to know what makes the greatest Tour de France rider of all time tick will want to read this book ASAP! It would be especially valuable as a companion to the Tour de France, which, as we all know, is only days away now.
I know that this book will change the way I watch the Tour this year and the way I think about the sport from now on. It is intensely riveting, revealing, and fair.
You won’t be disappointed.
To buy a copy:
Barnes & Noble
And if you need some more convincing, check this out . . .