by Marcus Berkmann
July 31, 2005
Many venerable sporting contests eventually wither and die, but the Tour de France just seems to get bigger, stronger, weirder with each year. Cyclists will tell you that there is no tougher event in any sport, and it's true that its participants seem to endure ferocious agonies as a matter of routine. Maybe this suits the tenor of the age. Millions enjoy watching sportsmen suffering in pursuit of glory on TV, especially with all that excellent French countryside as a backdrop. My three-year-old son watches enthralled, and then turns to me and says, "Daddy, when do they crash?" It's a good question, I tell him, because I'm wondering that too. For people like me and my son, Daniel Coyle's book is perfectly pitched. His publishers have pretended, for sound commercial reasons, that it is a biography of Lance Armstrong, the Texan six-time winner of the Tour, but it is both more interesting and more valuable than that. Coyle is youngish and American and comes to the Tour as a fan rather than an expert.
Last year he followed Armstrong and his main competitors in their preparations for the race and in the race itself. Along the way he had close access to virtually everyone that counted - or at least, he manages to give that impression, by not actually mentioning anyone he didn't have close access to. As well as Armstrong's US Postal team, we follow the progress of three or four other top teams, all of them willing Armstrong to crack, which of course he didn't. It's a surprisingly gripping tale: even though you know exactly what's going to happen, the narrative tension doesn't let up. It's almost more fun to read about than it was to watch.
For Coyle is blessed in his cast of characters. Cycling seems to attract an extraordinary assortment of eccentrics, crooks, charlatans and psychopaths, not all of whom ride bikes. There's the notorious Dr Ferrari, nicknamed Dr Evil, who coached Armstrong until found guilty of doping offences last autumn, when he was duly sacked. Rumours and allegations of drug abuse bedevil the sport, and Coyle might be too even-handed on this subject for some readers. He is willing to give most of these cyclists the benefit of the doubt, which is probably wise if he plans to write more books on the subject.
Dr Ferrari, though, is very shady. Whenever he speaks, you smile, and imagine him stroking a white Persian cat. Armstrong's rivals all seem certifiable to some extent: huge numbers of professional cyclists, it turns out, came from broken homes and/or abject poverty, and have had to battle to get anywhere. Armstrong himself emerges as a quite terrifying figure: driven, intense, single-minded, ruthless and wholly self-centred. Maybe that's the way you have to be to become possibly the greatest cyclist of all time, but it doesn't exactly make him likeable. To suppress his demons he goes cycling. "Armstrong wears his unreflectiveness like a badge of honour." In short he's the toughest of a tough bunch, with little or no fellow feeling for the rest of the human race. We must hope beyond hope that he never contemplates a political career.
Coyle's substantial and entertaining book is aimed at the general reader; William Fotheringham's Roule Britannia [Yellow Jersey Press, £15.99, 290 pp] may be of more specialist appeal. But it's no less readable for that. Fotheringham, who writes on cycling for the Guardian, has had the ingenious idea of following the Brits in the Tour de France, from the Hercules team of the mid-1950s to Chris Boardman and the two Millars, Robert and David, more recently. Coyle's book is about American success; Fotheringham's is about plucky British failure. Brits have tried and tried, drawn to this bizarre event despite an almost total lack of interest at home. Underpinning the narrative is the quiet heroism we always used to associate with the British character, and perhaps still should after recent events. You emerge from the book feeling rather proud of all these misfits and outsiders. Fotheringham's fondness for them is infectious.
One book for everyone, one for fans, and Johnny Green's is for people who can barely read at all. This is less a sports book than What I Did On My Holidays. Green went to the Tour last year and wants to tell you about it. He writes in a strange demotic style that may alienate some readers, including me. But if the sentence "He was fresh outta art college" doesn't make you want to grind your teeth down to stumps this book may be for you [Push Yourself Just A Little Bit More, Orion, £14.99, 243 pp]. One of the photos shows two fat men posing next to a car. The caption reads: "Me 'n' Earl 'n' Black Magic, about to stick five thousand miles on the clock." It's just a hunch, but I bet he went to Eton.
by Allen St. John
July 21, 2005
"Mullet-headed, bouquet-toting German teens chased podium girls; mink-swaddled doyennes skidded on spike heels; heavy-breathing bike geeks photographed framesets as if they were Playboy models." That's how Daniel Coyle describes the circus that surrounds the world's toughest bike race in his fine new book, "Lance Armstrong's War."
Coyle promptly follows up that sizzle with a helping of steak. "He felt good. He felt . . . normal," Coyle writes of Armstrong as he calmly warmed up on a stationary bike. "Here, then, was one advantage Armstrong held over his rivals. He was the only one for whom the Tour, in all its frantic, fantastic craziness, bore resemblance to everyday life." This combination of effervescent observation and hard-won insight makes "Lance Armstrong's War" a must-read. Although the six-time Tour de France winner has become one of the most compelling figures of his time -- he joined Lincoln, Einstein and Jonas Salk on the top 100 of the recent Greatest American list -- he is better known than he is understood. "There are not many people whose mailbox regularly receives both death threats and calls for his beatification," Coyle observes.
Coyle, the author of "Hardball: A Season in the Projects," gained unprecedented access to the rider, following Armstrong across Europe as he prepared for the 2004 Tour, and made the most of it. Coyle catches Armstrong canoodling with Sheryl Crow. He sits in with F-One, Armstrong's team of bike designers, as they debate the tiniest technical details. ("We had long conversations over who would be the number pinner-onner. . . . It was like being at NASA," said one team member.) Coyle stands on the roadside in Girona, Spain, as Michele Ferrari, the shadowy fitness guru also known as Dr. Evil, pricks Armstrong's finger and waits breathlessly for the "magic number" -- the lactate threshold that measures Armstrong's ability to produce sustained power -- to come up on a hand-held computer. ("In their mouths certain numbers were spoken with importance, as if they were the titles of great novels: Six point seven. Four point zero. Five hundred ten.")
While the world of cycling is foreign to most Americans, Coyle quickly draws the reader inside. He uses language that is wonderfully descriptive, from "the Dead Elvis grin" that Armstrong adopts at moments of peak effort to the "whoof shrug" that the Belgian mechanics use as a universal greeting. And the story's supporting cast is just as intriguing as Armstrong himself. We meet Lance's teammate Floyd Landis, a former mountain biker raised on a Mennonite farm, who rages like an Old Testament prophet; his key rival, Tyler Hamilton, the "nicest guy" in cycling; and David Walsh, the crusading British journalist who wrote a book claiming that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs.
Of course, Armstrong is more than a rider, more than a mere celebrity. He has become a symbol, a kind of secular saint, with cancer survivors traveling thousands of miles to touch the hem of his jersey. "His story is dark and unflinching and revelatory. It is replete with angels (his mother, Linda, his nurse LaTrice Haney) and devils (Cofidis, the French team that refused to honor his contract) and visitations. Armstrong continually sneaks in time to help out someone with cancer, take them on a bike ride . . . 'The obligation of the cured' Armstrong calls it -- and there was no doubt that he'd fulfilled that commitment a hundred times over." The problem of course, is that there are many pilgrims, and only one Lance. "I sure hope you didn't drive all that way for this," said Armstrong aide-de-camp John Korioth to a cancer survivor named David, who had traveled cross-country hoping for an audience. "Because in front of you there's a guy whose wife and kids both have cancer and in front of that guy are ten more people who've got something worse."
But what truly defines Armstrong is what he does on the bike, and Coyle depicts Armstrong as a guy who simply cannot bear to lose. While the 2004 Tour itself was relatively anticlimactic -- one by one, Armstrong's rivals fell by the wayside -- Armstrong saw the need to inject his own brand of drama into the proceedings. On the last mountain stage, with his overall victory already secure, he mounted a superhuman burst to nip a stunned Andreas Kloden at the line.
"Nothing personal," Armstrong whispered to the stunned German. "Lance Armstrong's War" is a fascinating book about a complex guy who sees the world in a simple way. In the world of Team Armstrong, people are quickly divided into friends and foes -- the latter being "trolls" in Lance-speak. Every experience counts as a win or a loss. And the only time that matters is right now. (And now Armstrong is the heavy favorite for his seventh win in a row, holding a substantial lead midway through the race's final week.) The philosophy is a little bit Dalai Lama, a little bit Dr. Phil and a little bit Vince Lombardi, but the six final-day yellow jerseys hanging in Lance Armstrong's closet are undeniable proof that it works.
by Brion O'Connor
July 7, 2005
In our celebrity-centric society, superstar-driven stories rule the day. Translation? Expect most Tour de France reports to be distilled into one household name: Lance Armstrong. True, the bare bones of Armstrong's extraordinary tale make for a great story line -- raised fatherless, world champion at 21, testicular cancer survivor who returned to win the planet's toughest race six times running, singer Sheryl Crow's boyfriend, comic Robin Williams's pal. That summary is interesting, even uplifting, but superficial nonetheless. Armstrong's autobiography, It's Not About the Bike, provided an added glimpse, but even that's limited. For a more complete, more compelling picture of the big Texan and the sport that helped make him famous, pick up Lance Armstrong's War by Daniel Coyle.
Coyle, with a velvety mix of vivid, sophisticated prose, Raymond Carver's unerring eye for nuance, and John Irving's irreverent, unflinching humor, lays bare the European peloton (a race's large main group) during the 2004 season. From his base in Girona, Spain -- the European epicenter of American cycling and Armstrong's Postal/Discovery team -- Coyle spins a yarn worthy of a Tolkien trilogy. The dizzying cast includes myriad stars from Armstrong's constellation, including Crow, nefarious team doctors, directors, coaches, trainers, equipment suppliers, current and former teammates, adversaries, masseurs and assistants, and, yes, even the occasional troll (Armstrong's blanket euphemism for the press).
Notable among the other racers are Tyler Hamilton of Marblehead, the wildly entertaining Floyd Landis (a former mountain biker who was raised a Mennonite and who was compelled to get his minister's approval to race in Lycra shorts), and Armstrong's chief opponent, the raucous and talented German Jan Ullrich.
There's also grudging acknowledgment of the sport's squalid underbelly -- performance-enhancing drugs. The breadth of the drug issue surprised Coyle, who didn't intend to focus on the litany of allegations, since so many were unproven. But once the writer was immersed in the cycling culture, the topic was impossible for him to ignore.
Throughout, Coyle gives us an intimate look inside the maelstrom of professional cycling -- the over-the-top obsession with opponents and body fat, the daily calculations of performance, and the never-ending, precarious balancing act between pushing toward peak fitness (''the razor") and pushing too far into system failure. There's also the unmistakable social connotation, that cycling, a predominantly white, wealthy sport here, is actually the vehicle for poor Europeans to escape their impoverished lot.
''A real revelation for me in this book was this divide between what Americans think bike racing is, and what bike racing really is," writes Coyle. ''Biking in America is associated with happiness, health, middle-class kids in shiny uniforms. And the reality is much more brutal, much more blue collar. It's struggling, rural tough guys kicking each other in the teeth. That's how it is in Europe. It's much more like boxing. It's much more about escape and survival. And Lance is one of those guys. Given his background, he belongs."
Which inevitably leads to the book's title character, and Coyle captures him. True to his public persona, Armstrong can be charming, charismatic, loyal, generous, intelligent, witty, even friendly. He's a ferocious competitor, an analytical and cagey warrior who will seize on the slightest mental or physical slip, the rare superstar who transcends his sport. But there's a harsh side to the man that his handlers and sponsors don't draw attention to, for good reason. This hyperdriven son of a single mom can be ruthless, demanding, and arrogant. In short, he's an extremely complicated guy, with many of the human foibles that we like to overlook in our heroes.
Coyle shines a bright light into those dark places, revealing Armstrong as the complex character he is, but does it with balance and precision. ''The peloton is a wolf pack, and they respect the alpha wolf," he writes. ''Those guys aren't all wearing LiveStrong bracelets because they are donating big money to cancer research. [In the peloton, Lance] shows himself like a wolf would. He has a way of asserting a sort of animalistic dominance. It's in his body language, it's in his tone, he just radiates it. And that is a universal language."
Just ask the teammates who've left, or the former employees of Postal/Discovery who find themselves in Armstrong's cross hairs Hamilton aside, Armstrong seems to take each departure as a personal affront, as abandonment, as fuel for his insatiable combative engine. Or, as Armstrong's former teammate Landis said: ''Lance doesn't want a hug. He just wants to kick everyone's" rear. Which he's done better than anyone else for the past six years. That's made him cycling's ultimate winner, and Americans love a winner. Which is why they'll love Coyle's book.
by Dan Giesen
July 3, 2005
On the face of it, the Tour de France is a simple endeavor -- the first bike rider to cover one "lap" of the country in the fastest cumulative time is the winner.
But as with so many other sporting events, there are deeper, more subtle nuances to the Tour, and even the most ardent and knowledgeable fans can sometimes miss the forest for the trees.
As for Jane and Joe Average American, that's why prime-time TV telecasts of the Tour in the United States can be -- and have been -- so maddening: You get a lot more travelogue and/or all-Lance-all-the-time than race action because the casual sports fan here generally isn't hip to the inner workings of the Tour peloton.
However, now that Lance Armstrong, with his record six straight Tour wins (he's currently shooting for a seventh), has raised the collective consciousness of the race in the States somewhat, maybe it's time for folks on this side of the Atlantic to up their cognoscenti factor a bit.
"Lance Armstrong's War" by Daniel Coyle (HarperCollins, $25.95) is a marvelous tale of Our Hero's run-up to and competition in the historic 2004 Tour de France, where Armstrong became the first rider in the 101-year history of the race to win the maillot jaune -- the Tour leader's yellow jersey -- for the sixth time.
Providing more than a outsider's look at the inner workings of Armstrong and his coterie of U.S. Postal Service teammates, officials and hangers-on, Coyle, a former editor at Outside magazine, delves into what makes professional riders tick. He takes a well-crafted measure of Armstrong's biggest rivals (and some close friends): Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton, Iban Mayo, Floyd Landis, the "notorious" Dr. Michele Ferrari et al.
Coyle uprooted his family from Alaska and moved to Girona, Spain, the residence of choice for most American cyclists who compete on the European pro circuit. The months he spent there gave him insights into the training methods of the Postal Service and other pro teams; the arcane politics of the peloton; the medical, psychological and just plain superstitious practices (and sometimes malpractices) of racers; and the ambitions of Armstrong and other Tour competitors that drive them -- and sometimes their loved ones -- to the brink.
Not quite a paean to Armstrong, Coyle's book is more of a revelatory glimpse at the workaday world of professional cycling, 21st century style.
by Leslie Snyder
July 2, 2005
Lance Armstrong's battle for a record-setting seventh Tour de France victory started Saturday. But the fight never really ends for the Texas superstar, says author Daniel Coyle, who spent 14 months in and around Team Armstrong during his pursuit of win No. 6 last year.
Mr. Armstrong's drive to crush his cycling rivals and other "trolls" who try to bring him down and his against-all-odds comeback from testicular cancer define the 33-year-old, known to millions who wear his yellow Livestrong bracelet.
"It's a fight, and it can never end, because when Armstrong stops fighting he'll stop living," Mr. Coyle writes in the final pages of Lance Armstrong's War, an inside view of the athlete, his rivals and the world's biggest bike race.
The subtitle's summation – "One man's battle against fate, fame, love, death, scandal and a few other rivals on the road to the Tour de France" – sets the tone for an engaging, sometimes gossipy take on life inside the Tour.
Mr. Coyle spills up-close details that will be news to even the most devoted followers of the Tour – in some cases confirming what you suspected but never knew for sure.
Viewers of Outdoor Life Network's extensive TV coverage of the "Tour de Lance" frequently see shots of the road painted with "Go Lance" greetings. What we don't see are the slurs against the American champ. We've seen the crowd cheering him up the narrow mountain roads but not the people who spit on his legs or throw beer.
One of the most fascinating chapters involves last year's drama on Alpe d'Huez, an already harrowing time-trial mountain stage that Mr. Armstrong won with a death threat hanging over his head.
At the finish line that day, Mr. Coyle writes, the crowd saw "a face that did not ask for applause or love or understanding or anything except the animal respect due a superior force."
The book also delves into the vehemently denied doping allegations that have dogged Mr. Armstrong since his miraculous resurgence after cancer.
But there's also the lighter side of the cycling world, the superstitions and rituals particular to the sport and the inevitable distractions produced by having Mr. Armstrong's girlfriend, music star Sheryl Crow, along for the ride.
Lance Armstrong's War is the perfect warm-up for a race that could see the cyclist set another unmatchable record before he hangs up his yellow jersey for good.
Finally, an authorized look at Lance Armstrong that offers something more than "Isn't Lance wonderful?"
by Bryan French
July 1, 2005
This is still a story about a champion, a dedicated athlete who performs beyond what most people would believe possible. It's still a story of a cancer survivor who did more than just survive, who excels and, in his spare time, leads a fight against cancer.
Because it's not Armstrong's account, this book provides a more insightful look at Armstrong the person than the two autobiographies co-written with Sally Jenkins.
Daniel Coyle's book, which follows Armstrong's preparation for and completion of his sixth consecutive Tour de France victory, lets the reader into his battles (sometimes seemingly petty) with the media and into Armstrong's mind games with challengers -- and with himself.
Armstrong is a man driven to be the best -- and driven to be in control. That drive doesn't always allow him to be a nice guy.
There are guarded -- but still telling -- comments from former teammate and sometimes-friend Tyler Hamilton.
"Lance is good at talking, and he's got what it takes to back it up every step of the way," he said.
Or, as team director Johan Bruyneel put it: "Armstrong is a man that needs stress to work optimally. ... And he won't hesitate to stir things up a bit, if that tension isn't already there."
Ah, Lance the trash talker. The competitor who is at his best when the stuff hits the air conditioner.
Armstrong rants about "the trolls," those people who are out to get him or bring him down. As Coyle writes: "Postal was the only team to snap digital photographs of journalists' faces. ("For the black list," spokesman Jogi Muller joked, lamely but accurately."
And the book doesn't dodge or gloss over doping allegations. It even goes into some depth about Armstrong's trainer, Dr. Evil aka Dr. Michele Ferrari. Months after Armstrong won the 2004 Tour, Ferrari was convicted of charges related to doping (but not related to Armstrong).
There are plenty of nice things to say about Armstrong. He is a champion. He has never failed a doping test. He seems to be straightening out his personal life. (There are even tidbits on Sheryl Crow aka Juanita Cuervo.)
Even his best work -- fighting cancer -- displays the man who will not accept defeat, even second place. He wants the Lance Armstrong Foundation to surpass the American Cancer Society. Last year, his foundation raised more than $45 million.
Not even the trolls can deny that
by Austin Murphy
June 29, 2005
There is a minor telling moment in Daniel Coyle's lively and insightful new book, Lance Armstrong's War, that gives us an idea of
what the author was up against. After moving with his wife and their four kids from Alaska to Girona, Spain, and after shadowing Armstrong
for six months, befriending and debriefing the Texan's teammates and opponents, friends and enemies, the author is granted his first
prolonged audience with his subject.
"Before I could start my questions," Coyle writes, Armstrong interjected, "Well, how do you like me now?"
How will his legions of fans like the Armstrong that emerges from this
book? The Lance here is rather more complex than, say, the star of the Outdoor Life Network's The Lance Chronicles, and he has considerably
more edge than the protagonist of his autobiography, It's Not About the Bike. It turns out that the American hero and cancer survivor who
has given hope to millions and raised vast sums for charity also happens to be a demanding CEO disinclined to suffer fools and quick to
turn on those he suspects of disloyalty. In the fourth paragraph of the first chapter we see Armstrong on a private jet above Europe,
peering into his BlackBerry, tracking the activities of his enemies,
to whom he refers, collectively, as "f---ing trolls!"
This PG-13 patron may come as a bit of a shock to supporters
accustomed to seeing him air-kissed by podium girls or chumming it up
with Oprah. But anyone who's worked with Armstrong knows well the
edge that can enter his voice, the arctic look that comes into his
eyes, when the subject turns to, say, one of the trolls. To see that
look, or, God forbid, be its target, is to know why Armstrong enjoys
more than just the respect of his teammates. As one of them tells
Coyle, "I think everybody's afraid of Lance. If you're not, you
haven't been paying attention."
While it may be tempting to put Armstrong in the category of such icy,
aloof winners as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio -- sometimes surly
champions willing to jettison civility, politesse and friendships in
pursuit of their art -- Lance's case is more complicated. Stern
taskmaster though he may be, he is also charming, witty and
kindhearted. No athlete in history has used his celebrity to do more
good: The Lance Armstrong Foundation has raised a stunning $85 million
to date. He is more Albert Schweitzer than Albert Belle.
Word from Armstrong's camp is that he's O.K. with the book. As one
member of his inner circle put it: If he comes across as a tough guy
who can be tough to work for, well, that's all right. Because it's
true. Those who know Armstrong know that the single-mindedness that
got him through chemotherapy and made him one of the greatest athletes
of his generation doesn't always serve him well in his interpersonal
relations. "People get close to Armstrong," says Jonathan Vaughters, a
former teammate, "and then something inevitably goes haywire."
The latest incarnation of this pattern unfolded in April at the Tour
de Georgia, where Armstrong had a public falling-out with ex-teammate
Floyd Landis. In exploring Armstrong's psyche, Coyle posits that these"on-off friendships" might be a manifestation of "a wounded,
approval-seeking kid." How do you like me now?
I tend to agree with Landis, who mulls over that proposition before
giving Coyle one of the best lines of the book: "Lance doesn't want a
hug. He just wants to kick everyone's ass."
by Michael D. Schaeffer
June 29, 2005
The Tour de France begins on Saturday, which means Americans will be getting a full dose of Lance Armstrong on their TV screens for the next three weeks.
They'll watch him zip through time trials, sweat his way up mountains, and plunge bravely down frightening descents that look a lot like ski slopes.
And though the vast majority of Americans care not a bit for bicycle racing and probably couldn't tell you whether Greg LeMond rode a bike or played hockey, they'll pull for Armstrong to win his seventh straight Tour - not because he is a magnificent athlete who has dominated the world's toughest athletic event for so long but because he is the man who beat cancer.
Armstrong got up off death's doorstep and with indomitable willpower reeled off six straight victories in cycling's most prestigious race - something nobody had ever done.
If any are curious about how such a strong will works, how it affects Armstrong and those around him, they can find the answer in Daniel Coyle's masterful new book, "Lance Armstrong's War" (HarperCollins, $25.95).
The author moved his family to Girona, Spain, Armstrong's European base, and spent a year following Armstrong through the 2004 cycling season and his sixth Tour de France title.
His mission was to find out what made Armstrong great "and what happened when that greatness was pushed to its limits."
Coyle, a former editor for Outside magazine, found "a hero who embodies many people's best idea of what they want to be."
But Coyle makes abundantly clear that Armstrong is a hero with his share of faults.
Armstrong may look like a grown-up Opie, standing on the podium at the Champs Elysees in his yellow jersey and yellow cap, hoisting the Tour victor's stuffed lion in one hand and a bouquet in the other.
But Armstrong is not Opie.
He sees the world through a "gunfighter's squint" and has a hard edge - a very hard edge.
Coyle's operating assumption is that the public has mistakenly perceived Armstrong as a nice guy.
In evidence, Coyle offers a quotation from Armstrong's close friend John Korioth:
"People find this hard to believe, but he's not a happy-go-lucky, Mr. Smiley, save-the-world-from-cancer type of person. . . . 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."
Armstrong ruthlessly divides the world into friends and foes.
A friend is "someone who will kill for me."
Foes are "trolls . . . sneaky lowlifes who tried to snare him, to pull him down into the muck. The landscape was crawling with them."
Among the most noxious of the trolls, in Armstrong's view, is David Walsh, the Irish journalist whose book "L.A. Confidentiel,'' written with French sportswriter Pierre Ballester and published last year only in French, offered circumstantial evidence that Armstrong - who has never failed a drug test - had been guilty of doping.
"I just hate the guy," Armstrong told Coyle.
While Coyle's portrait of Armstrong may not be entirely flattering, Armstrong should have little reason to complain. Both he and his entourage gave Coyle decent access, and Coyle showed him a draft of the book.
Coyle, a wordsmith of uncommon talent with an eye for the telling detail, has given us a meticulously reported, beautifully crafted book to complement his well-reviewed nonfiction debut "Hardball: A Season in the Projects'' (1994), dealing with Little League baseball in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project.
He has shown us an Armstrong more complex than the one we thought we knew - and no less a hero.
by Charlie Melk
June 29, 2005
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.
by George Bryson
June 27, 2005
If the classic arc of a good story -- "an
interesting character confronts a daunting obstacle (or two
or three) ... and something
profound happens" -- still holds true, then Alaska-based
author Daniel Coyle may have a best seller in hand. Along
with a good sense of timing.
His new book, "Lance Armstrong's War: One Man's Battle Against
Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal and a Few Other Rivals on
the Road to the Tour de France," began appearing in bookstores
nationwide last week, just in time for the world's most grueling
bike race, which starts Saturday on the coast of France.
Evidence of popular interest in the subject couldn't be easier
to find, with Armstrong's gaunt visage filling the covers
of all the sport mags, from Bicycling to Outside to Sports
You can read the full story online.
by John Marschall
Lance Armstrong's own books have been huge best sellers, as much of America has been mesmerized by his amazing dominance in the strange Euro world of long-distance cycling. But a more impartial view of Armstrong has been missing until this compelling, highly detailed and sometimes shocking account written by a prize-winning sports journalist from Alaska who dissects cycle racing with a master observer's eye.
Coyle moved his wife and four children to Europe to follow Armstrong's quest for a sixth straight Tour de France in 2004, explaining, "I wanted to get closer to find answers to basic questions. What, exactly, gave Armstrong his edge over his rivals? What sacrifices did he make to keep that edge? What was his greatness made of, and what happened when that greatness was pushed to its limits?"
by Joe Lindsey
Typically, cycling books fit one of a few neatly defined categories.
There is the historical narrative of races, often painstakingly
researched labors of love, which romanticize the history of events like the Tour de France, potentially at the peril of their objectivity. There is the auto- and biographical sketch, which can include anything from Armstrong's best-selling first book "It's Not About the Bike" to Michael Barry's recently released "Inside the Postal Bus." There are reams of training books by the usual gurus. There are even novels, like Ralph Hurne's "The Yellow Jersey." But there is rarely a work of literary journalism about the sport.
It is into this void that Daniel Coyle, a former Senior Editor at Outside magazine, leaps with both feet with "Lance Armstrong's War" to be released this month by Harper Collins publishers. The full title of the book is "Lance Armstrong's War: One man's battle against fate, fame, love, death, scandal and a few other rivals on the road to the Tour de France." That mouthful of a sub-title is the most cumbersome thing about this book, which is an entertaining, informative look at pro racing. I'm sure that Publisher's Weekly will call it a "riveting account" and maybe a "rattling good yarn." I'm content to say it and David Herlihy's "Bicycle" are the best cycling-related books I've seen in the past decade.
Coyle moved his family from Homer, Alaska to Armstrong's European base of Girona, Spain last year, in an attempt to follow Armstrong for a whole season as he attempted to become the first rider ever to win six Tours. The book is not solely about Armstrong: Coyle delves into racing tactics, physiology and other riders like Jan Ullrich and Iban Mayo, but it centers on the Texan's quest to become the winningest Tour rider of all time.
Entire forests have been felled to cover Armstrong's exploits and to chronicle his rise to stardom, his battle with cancer and, of course, his seeming never-ending struggle against allegations of doping. Where Coyle departs from these previous efforts is both in his depth of reporting and a careful neutrality - "Lance Armstrong's War" is neither a worshipful hagiography nor a takedown piece. Armstrong's personality, warts and all, emerges not in Coyle's words but in the pictures he paints of Armstrong, often in Armstrong's own words and those of his associates.
Coyle gained tremendous access to Armstrong's inner circle, and his reporting is prodigious in its depth, detail and accuracy. It's a book in which even the most learned observer of the sport will find new information, ranging from larger revelations to interesting cocktail tidbits, like how Armstrong, an acknowledged Internet junkie who loves to read what is written about him, subscribes to a clipping service that alerts him on his Blackberry whenever a newspaper, magazine or web site article mentioning his name is published. If he really does read everything in which his name appears, the Boulder Report's rambling lengths and non sequitur topics must cause him unconscionable agony.
The most interesting chapters deals with Armstrong's relationships with his teammates, friends and associates. In "The Book of Floyd," Coyle details the at-times stormy relationship between Armstrong and Floyd Landis, the outspoken former lieutenant who paced Armstrong through the Alps of the 2004 Tour. Landis, we learn, is different than the other riders on Postal; he was willing to give his all to help Lance win the Tour, but at 28, his own dreams were not so easily subjugated, and Postal requires that subjugation. A tense exchange with Johan Bruyneel after the Alpe d'Huez time trial reveals much about why Landis jumped to Phonak, and possibly presaged this year's rift with his former leader.
Storytelling is paramount. We follow Armstrong as he tests a new (ultimately rejected) time-trial bike. We see the juxtaposition of the high-efficiency Postal team and the more traditional, down-home, even, approach of another high-budget pro outfit, Jan Ullrich's T-Mobile. We ride through the Tour of Georgia, Dauphine Libere and other spring and summer tuneups, all building toward the inevitable pressure-cooker of the Tour. Coyle describes the people, taking special joy in their mannerisms: the Belgian core of Postal's staff "whoof-shrugs" its way around Europe, a term Coyle coined to describe what is apparently a national conversational tic along the lines of Canada's "Eh?"; the sponsors are Dudes and Bros, hanging out in the Clubhouse, soaking up the flow of power, money and prestige that comes from being associated with the magnetic Armstrong.
Inevitably, the subject of drugs comes up. Coyle doesn't shrink from the topic, but he handles it matter-of-factly, without a moral judgment. A fascinating chapter titled "Dr. Evil's Cheese" even offers humor. Dr. Evil is the joking name Armstrong and his associates gave to Dr. Michele Ferrari, Armstrong's longtime coach (one thing that Coyle lays out with little doubt is that Armstrong's relationship with Ferrari was a lot closer than the several-times-a-year meetings Armstrong had described back in 2001, and that, contrary to some statements, Ferrari does not work in concert with Armstrong's more well-known coach, Chris Carmichael).
In the chapter, Ferrari has come to Girona for some testing on Armstrong and had brought him a gift: a large hunk of Parmesan cheese from Ferrari's hometown of Ferrara, Italy. As Coyle sits in with Ferrari, Armstrong's former assistant, Mike Anderson and teammates Landis and George Hincapie, the topic turns to performance enhancement:
"I [Coyle] ask if something as simple as a night's sleep would make a big difference. 'Ahhh, small things, they can be big things,' Ferrari said, holding up a long index finger.
'Naps are illegal, right Michele,' Landis asked teasingly. Ferrari turned to Landis, his birdlike features alight. 'Of course!' he said, his tones rising to high sarcasm. 'Napping is a competitive advantage.'
'That wouldn't be right,' Anderson said drolly.
'Spaghetti too, of course,' Ferrari said.
'Bread,' Landis offered.
Ferrari drew himself to full height, as if he were delivering an address to Congress.
'According to Italian law,' he recited, his index finger bobbing along, 'it is illegal to use any substance or method which enhances athletic performance. So of course naps, they are not allowed.'
'Any substance or method,' Ferrari repeated slowly, to let the idiocy of the law sink in. His dark eyes roved, and landed on the briefcase.
'The cheese!' His raised his voice in a parody of triumph. 'This has many carbohydrates and fats which aid in performance, and so it is highly illegal. It must be banned! It is a good thing there are no police around, no?'"
With humor, and in Ferrari's own words, Coyle deftly paints a picture of a sport pursued by absurd notions of performance enhancement and yet dismissive of its own very real problems. It's funny and chilling at the same time, because it's real.
It's this kind of neutral balance that makes "Lance Armstrong's War" such a good read. Coyle does not shy away from any topic, but avoids putting his own spin on things. As a result, it's the most balanced portrait of Armstrong I've ever read. If, in the lead-up to the Tour, you want an inside look at what it takes to win the Tour, and an all-access pass into the life of the race's largest champion, by all means, pick up Coyle's book.
May 23, 2005
by Neal Rogers
One of the most telling passages in “Armstrong’s War,” a soon-to-be-released account of
Lance Armstrong’s calculated assault on the 2004 Tour de France, comes in the book’s final
pages. Moments after winning the final time trial and securing his sixth Tour win, Armstrong
ran into longtime rival Jan Ullrich at the medical control tent. The American reached out to
shake hands but was surprised as Ullrich smiled and pulled him into a bear hug, saying,
“Awwwww, come on.”
“Can you believe that?” Armstrong said later in disbelief. “He hugged me.”
That’s one of countless insights found in Daniel Coyle’s superbly written, deeply researched
“Armstrong’s War” (Harper Collins), which delves into the world of cycling’s fiercest competitor.
And as revealed by the book’s subtitle — “One Man’s Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love,
Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France” — Armstrong
spent much of the 2004 season fighting battles on multiple fronts.
Following the successful model of his first book, “Hardball: A Season in the Projects,”
Coyle, a former senior editor at Outside Magazine and a self-described “mountain-biker type,”
moved his wife and four children to Gerona, Spain, in February 2004 to follow the trials and
tribulations of America’s top road pros in Europe.
Coyle takes readers inside Armstrong’s inner circle, which includes controversial Italian trainer
Dr. Michele Ferrari, team director Johan Bruyneel, personal coach Chris Carmichael, OLN
broadcaster Bob Roll, agent Bill Stapleton and longtime friend John ‘College’ Korioth. He delves
into the lives and minds of Armstrong’s main 2004 Tour adversaries, including Ullrich, Tyler
Hamilton and Iban Mayo. And he offers great insight to the minute details and head games that
fuel riders in the international peloton: the superstitions, the spying on other teams’ equipment,
the riders sizing each other up at early-season races by pinching each other’s stomachs and the
peloton’s collective ears perking up when a top-ranked rider so much as coughs.
“The idea was to capture a season in the life of cycling, but Armstrong was always at the
core of our interest,” Coyle said. “I was going to cover a season in cycling regardless if Lance
won or lost the Tour, or hit a pothole and was injured. Still, I hope people don’t get the idea
it’s completely about Armstrong. It’s more of an Ali versus Frazier story, where Armstrong
is Ali and Frazier is a composite character of all these different forces and people that seem
to be working against him.”
Armstrong entered the 2004 season adjusting to his recent divorce and facing the realities of
an aging body. There was also an unprecedented army of Tour challengers and the growing
commitments of international celebrity alongside new girlfriend, Sheryl Crow. And there were
the “trolls,” Armstrong’s label for various “lowlifes who tried to snare him, to pull him down into
the muck.” In Armstrong’s world, trolls include Irish sportswriter David Walsh and his book of
doping allegations, “L.A. Confidentiel”; Italian rider Filippo Simeoni, who filed a lawsuit against
Armstrong for defamation of character after Armstrong called Simeoni a “liar” for suggesting that Ferrari had taught him how to use EPO
and avoid detection; journalists that plagued
his life with inconvenience; and dubious fans
that spat at him and shouted insults. While
those distractions might overload the average
person, Armstrong seemed to thrive on it.
Coyle tapped every avenue available to
construct a complete portrait of Armstrong,
including unused OLN footage from “The
Lance Chronicles,” videotaped Eurosport
feeds and ample time with Armstrong’s closest
confidantes. “I was talking to the people
who were most intimate with him all the
time, guys like Johan Bruyneel, Michele
Ferrari, John Korioth, spending time with
those guys, talking to his teammates,” said
Coyle. “Those guys had more interesting
views on Lance than he did on himself. The
guy in the rocket ship doesn’t always have
the best perspective on what he’s doing.”
One of the more surprising elements in
“Armstrong’s War” is the revelation of the intimate
relationship shared by Armstrong and
Ferrari, who was on trial by Italian prosecutors
for unlawful distribution of medicines and
sporting fraud while Coyle worked on the
book. It’s a relationship Armstrong has been
reluctant to talk about, yet in nearly every
sequence where the author has access to
Armstrong, Ferrari is there, testing, calculating
and charting out the ideal training schedule.
“Ferrari is a fantastically entertaining, energetic,
brilliant guy,” Coyle said. “Of course
an Italian court also found him to be a guilty
guy [in October 2004], but he was one of the
more interesting characters I met. And I got
the sense that Lance appreciated that, that
there was this interplay of these two minds
that were on the same page, trying to figure
out how to win a sixth Tour de France.”
Coyle said the most difficult facet of working
on “Armstrong’s War” was confronting
the long shadow of performance-enhancing
drugs in the sport. “I was hoping that it
wouldn’t be a huge part of the story.” he said.
“As a fan and a journalist, it was extraordinarily
difficult to get a handle on what is
actually happening while getting to know
these people. I don’t think I offer anything
definitive, but hopefully the book is a tool for
people to make up their own minds.”
Coyle’s book also forecasts the current rift
between Armstrong and his former teammate
Floyd Landis. “There was something about
Floyd… that reminded people of Armstrong,”
Coyle writes. “His similarity to Armstrong was
a source of strength, and, some feared, a
potential problem. The position of being
Armstrong’s friend was a tricky one for anybody,
especially for Landis, for whom docility
came with difficulty.When something bothered
him, or struck him as unfair, he spoke up. He
asked questions, he tested limits.”
“There’s a pattern,” Armstrong’s former
teammate Jonathan Vaughters explained to
Coyle. “People get close [to Armstrong], and
something inevitably goes haywire.”
Coyle wasn’t surprised to find out that the
former friends and teammates were at odds
at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, adding that
he hasn’t heard from Armstrong since he
sent the Texan an uncorrected proof of the
book in March. “We met in December, and
he just asked me, ‘What’s in there that’s
going to piss me off ?’” Coyle said. “But aside
from a couple of conversations with Bill
Stapleton regarding Armstrong’s legal matters,
no one from the inner circle has had
anything much to say about the book. I was
trying to report the Armstrong other people
were telling me about. He’s a complex man.” --Reprinted with permission from VeloNews, Volume 34, Issue No.9, May 23, 2005. © 2005 Inside Communications, Inc.
June 6, 2005
When an athlete is as celebrated as Lance Armstrong, journalists tend
to approach either with staggering awe or malicious schadenfreude.
Refreshingly, Coyle (Hardball: A Season in the Projects) displays neither. The journalist moved
to Armstrong's training base in Spain to cover the months leading up to
the cyclist's sixth Tour de France victory in 2004, and the resulting
comfort level of Coyle with his subject is palpable. Armstrong emerges
from these pages as neither the cancer-surviving saint his American
fans admire, nor the soulless, imperialist machine his European
detractors hate. Instead, he comes across as a preternaturally gifted
athlete barely removed from the death-defying hellion he was as a
teenager, fanatically disciplined, gregarious and generous but with a
legendarily icy temper. Coyle sweeps over the basics of Armstrong's
Texas childhood and fight with cancer, concentrating on his obsessive
training--this is a sport where results are measured in ounces and
microseconds. He's sometimes too loose with his writing, digressing as
though he had all the time in the world, but he tightens up for the
grand finale: the Tour. This work is honest, personal and passionate,
with plenty to chew on for fans and novices alike.
by Alan Moores
Starred. "He seems so simple from a distance," one cyclist described teammate Lance Armstrong. "But the closer you get, the more you realize--this is one very, very complicated guy." If Linda Armstrong Kelly's No Mountain High Enough (2005) revealed the impetus for son Lance's drive to succeed (anger at absent dad, support from overachieving mom), and Lance's own It's Not about the Bike (2000) revealed the medical odds he has courageously overcome, Coyle's excellent portrait of the six-time (and counting) Tour de France winner places Armstrong fully in his own element: the road to his victory in the 2004 Tour. The world knows, perhaps ad nauseam, Armstrong's uncommon will to prevail-- "Lance wishes to swallow the world," as his trainer put it--but Coyle's account also shows a laser-sharp managerial style, in the face of monumental distractions, that would be the envy of any Fortune 500 CEO. Coyle, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, also gives full coverage of Armstrong's extensive support team, his Tour competitors, his focused training regimen, the questions over his suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs, and the (legal) strategies he employs to stay ahead of both the field and his own body's inevitable breakdown. Fueled by superb reporting and the built-in suspense of the 2004 Tour, Lance Armstrong's War is the equal of its distinguished and very complicated subject. And it's just in time for Armstrong's final Tour de France this July. --Alan Moores
YA: Sure to be in demand among athletic teens. BO.
Read about Lance Armstrong's War at CNN.com.