Saturday, November 08, 2014

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh

Cover image © Simon & Schuster UK.
Being on holiday on a Caribbean island for four weeks provides ample time for getting some reading in. Anse des Sables in Saint Lucia provided a great backdrop for reading about one man’s manipulation of Le Tour de France for so many years.

In Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, David Walsh introduces us to the depths of Lance Armstrong’s cheating in various races and chiefly his record-breaking seven Tour de France wins. Furthermore, he demonstrates that despite Armstrong’s name becoming synonymous with cheating in cycling recently, he cheated with plenty of help from others.

Seven Deadly Sins is as much the story of Walsh as it is of Armstrong’s deception, especially as the two stories seemingly become more enmeshed as time goes on. 

The book doesn’t just take aim at Armstrong; Irish cycling heros Sean Kelly and Stephan Roche also come in for criticism. Walsh talks about the rattling of pills in the back pocket of Kelly’s jersey in his early days as a sports writers and purposefully downplaying the incident as he’d been hired as Kelly’s biographer.

What plays out in the book is a complex chess game between a number of protagonists and antagonists. Walsh, Pierre Ballester, disgruntled former members of the US Postal team and an increasingly small number of journalists on one side, and the might of Armstrong, his collaborators and the believers of his miracle comeback on the other side.

Cue countless tales of lawsuits, threats, clandestine meetings and the majority of the sporting world deceived. It is testament to Walsh’s bloody-mindedness that he didn’t give up the chase and even managed to find time to challenge Roche’s ‘cleanliness’ as a former Grand Tour winner.

Ultimately, we know how this story ends; in a pretty unapologetic interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey in which Armstrong’s primary defence seems to be that, ‘well, everyone else was at it, but we just did it better.’

Well worth a read for cycling fanatics, people who love a little real-life sporting drama, or those who love investigative journalism. One thing's for sure, Walsh is a good writer and is able to tell what could be quite a dry tale in a very exciting way.

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