In so doing Coyle, who gained unprecedented access to Armstrong and his US Postal Service team throughout the season, provides many fascinating insights into a peculiar world whose inhabitants fear infection and watch their weight as obsessively as the most anorexic hypochondriac. It is a world in which its occupants push lift buttons with their elbows to avoid infections spreading via their fingers, and for whom every handshake is a potential hotbed of germs. It is a world of masochistic training rides and of lung-bursting tests to assess performance and condition, where the only things that matter are the numbers. And it is a world of cloak and dagger, where every rider is constantly assessing their rivals’ form and physical condition, and full of intra- and inter-team political intrigue.
Above all, this book is as close as any writer has ever been allowed to get to the man behind the façade of Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France champion. In so far that any book authorised and signed off by the man himself can be, this is an honest appraisal of what makes Armstrong tick, from his single-minded focus on hitting peak physical condition in the month of July to his overwhelming need to not just beat but destroy anyone who stands in his way, whether they are wielding a bike or a keyboard.
The book also touches upon the racing year through the eyes of Phonak’s Tyler Hamilton (a former US Postal teammate), and Floyd Landis (a Postie in 2004, but one who would leave for Phonak in 2005 to escape Armstrong’s long shadow). It even tackles the multiple accusations and litigations being aimed at Armstrong at that time, including the infamous book L.A. Confidentiel by Irish journalist David Walsh, and while the examination of these carries a hint of red-white-and-blue tinted spectacles, it is largely handled in an even-handed way; it is not simply an extension of the Armstrong PR machine.
For anyone who is interested in an external portrait of Lance Armstrong, or in the fine detail behind the broad brush-strokes which comprise the annual spectacle which is the Tour de France, this is one to add to the collection. It’s not necessarily a book for the cycling ingénue, but it is a richly rewarding read nonetheless.
5 stars (out of 5)