Towards the end of the book, David Walsh talks of how Paul Kimmage, a fellow journalist, asked him to let go of his obsession with Lance Armstrong. David Walsh then writes of an incident, soon after, where Paul Kimmage admonished an youngster for wearing the ‘Livestrong’ bands. I was mortified by that passage because of how proud I felt by wearing them and also feeling good about having made a contribution to charity.
He starts the book in 1993, goes back to 1983, talks about his hero Sean Kelly and his friendship with Paul Kimmage. It was through Paul that he came to know of doping in the sport and it disappointed him that the 1988 tour winner had taken a masking agent and still went on to win the race because it wasn’t a banned substance. His hatred for doping started at a village race, when his hero Sean Kelly while bouncing the rear wheel off the surface was not concerned when David and Paul heard pills hitting the plastic
The tone adopted in the book is sceptical and he talks about the death of his son and his memories. He rides on those memories to ask questions that no one else would ask. One of the questions that motivated him to ask more questions was, ‘What did Mary and Joseph do with the gold?’ When Michelle Smith won the 1996 swimming gold medal, his initial reaction was that of suspicion- how a lady with modest abilities transformed herself into a world beating athlete. The fact that her husband, who also doubled up as her coach, was a doper fuelled the suspicions further.
He takes some time getting to the subject of the book. When he does, he does it in a blockbuster fashion. He talks of coppi chuppacci and how his ride at a mountainous range with a passion rarely seen before had made him cry. Further, the man’s revelation and retraction made him lose some respect for him. So, when Lance Armstrong does the same at the same place in 1999, the author doesn’t quite have the same feelings.
There are moments when he draws examples from other sports too about the doping. Linford Christie and Merlene Ottey’s examples are cited to drive home the point that doping is prevalent in many sports. The reason why David grows sceptical about the athletes performance is the sudden surge in their area of activity. He doesn’t allow himself to be shrouded by questions like, ‘Why would Linford dope during the last stage of his career.’, ‘Why would Lance put more in his body when he has recovered from cancer?’ . He says that the joy of covering sport for the sake of sport has long vanished and now it’s all about who has taken what substance and in what quantities?
He meets other journalists who investigate doping and gets inspired by them. He wants, like them, to clear the sport of doping. In 2000, he got a call from Bill Stapleton to stay away from his investigations. In 2001 too he got a call, but this time around the offer was different and the bait was to interview Lance Armstrong.
When the Michael Ferrari case was being investigated and the results about to be made public, Lance said to a publication that he had collaborated with him for the World hour record. That incident made David Walsh realise how quickly the cyclists think. In all his interactions with the press, whenever the doping incident came up, Lance would be quick to point out that some person wasn’t proved guilty or some people had cases withdrawn against them.
Responsible reporting always builds trust. This fact shines through in the people that David gets in touch with. They are ready to talk to him because he is known for his through research. Why else would a man who has been researching about the doping in cycling and Michael Ferrari’s connection to it get in touch with him? Why would lance’s friend’s wife respond to him when asked? Why would the team masseur respond to him? They all had a period where they read what he wrote and developed their trust on him based on that.
He has Stephen Swart talking to him and then co-authors a book with Pierre in French because of the libel laws in UK. Armstrong does not let it go easily. He sues everyone involved with the book and also Sunday Times, because they published an edited extract from the book.
He was involved in a lot of cases about Lance Armstrong, including one long, protracted battle about him doping where most of the people who were interviewed by him were also present. Some turned hostile, some didn’t. The book also speaks about the arm twisting capabilities of Lance Armstrong.
When it all started to go downhill, it careened for Lance. David Walsh asks a lot of people about what they felt, finally, after their stance was vindicated. A lot of people responded about their contribution only to clean up the sport and not to bring down Lance.
Overall a good read. As you go ahead, turning the pages, sometimes you tend to question if you are doing enough.