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It's all about Lance

4th July 2013 - Steve Newman


More than one wag has been apprehended shifting Lance Armstong's now discredited autobiographies into the fiction section, but the fact that they're still available shows how important they are in understanding the Lance Armstrong doping saga properly, suggests Steve Newman from our Westfield Stratford City branch.


These are the titles by Lance Armstrong you can find in the sports department:


Lance Armstrong - Tour de Force by Daniel CoyleWith other titles like Daniel Coyle's Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force and Tour de Lance by Bill Strickland, cycling literature in the first decade of the 21st century felt like a Lance Armstrong love-in. Perhaps not even Muhammad Ali had had as much written about him. But the one title you can't buy from a good bookshop is Report on proceedings under the world Anti-doping code and the USADA Protocol on Lance Armstrong.


Its long title can be condensed into a simple synopsis of how Lance Armstrong won seven Tours that 'were accomplished through a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history'. It was published at the same time as The Secret Race, Tyler Hamilton's William Hill-winning whistle-blowing account of his life at US Postal, in which he gave a shocking description of 'that massive team doping scheme' and the bullying that was used to cover it.


Line every title up in order of publication and you have a unique timeline. The story, at first, is of a brash talented young Texan who faced down cancer and then won more Tours than any other man. His first biography, It's not about the bike wasn't just purchased by cyclists or sportsman; it was read by cancer sufferers, families dealing with cancer and those just looking for a bit of inspiration. On several occasions I had customers who would never dream of browsing a sports title, asking specifically for books on Armstrong.


Seven Deadly Sins by David WalshIt's in 2009 though that the narrative begins to change. A few reporters, David Walsh and Paul Kimmage in particular, are asking questions and the USADA are starting to investigate. The antihero emerges: a brash, talented young Texan so determined to win the Tour he begins to organise a system of drug-taking, not just for himself but for his entire team. If you want to be part of US Postal you have to be part of the programme. The EPO, the Andriol, the cortisone, the human growth hormones, Actovegin (it's used in controlling diabetes but also improves oxygen capacity), the lies and the bullying that protect the programme. They dominate they lives of those involved but the rewards though are huge. If Lance wins the Tour then the team sees the share of the prize money, honour and the glory.


Of course, this was all omitted from his autobiographies. What was unsaid became, after the USADA report, the centre of the story. To paraphrase his first book, It's not about the cancer.

Tyler Hamilton gives a team member's eye view of the institutionalised and professional approach, David Walsh's Seven Deadly Sins tells the attempt by one journalist to expose him. With Hamilton, it's about living the lie: the rewards and, ultimately, the price. With Walsh, it's about the constant battle to expose that lie: he and The Times were successfully sued for libel by Armstrong in 2003 for alleging drug taking.


Armstrong's bibliography is also about myth-building, how it is integral to sport, not just cycling. It wasn't enough that Lance Armstrong won seven Tours, that he had won them after beating cancer: it's also about how myths can be torn apart and exposed. Maybe there is a lesson in that.


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