Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Book Reviews

Bill Strickland – Tour de Lance

Ok, I know I’m a bit late with this one, but I only recently finished reading it. According to the big bold letters on the front of the book, Tour de Lance is ‘The extraordinary story of Lance Armstrong’s fight to reclaim the Tour de France”. This is a bit of an exaggeration, it should have read ‘ Tour de Lance – An interesting account of the first year of Lance Armstrong’s return to international level competitive cycling’.

And indeed, it is interesting. Bill Strickland writes well – he should considering the fact he has edited one of the worlds most widely read cycling magazine (Bicycling) for many years. Bill gives an honest and, at times, heartfelt assessment of the return – and all of the factors surrounding the return (the training, the doping claims, the reasons for the comeback, the failure to win his eighth Tour,  and the people surrounding Lance that had an impact).

Lance is Bill’s hero, he makes no secret of this, he doesn’t want him to fail, he doesn’t want him to come back for the wrong reasons and he doesn’t want him to break his perfect record of seven TdF victories. Lance does fail, he does come back for questionable reasons, and he did break his perfect record by coming third in the 2009 TdF. Bills assessment of all of this is a fascinating read albeit if, at times, he sounds like a kid who has grown up and suddenly found out their childhood hero is flawed.  

The fight against cancer gets a big mention. The great work that the Livestrong foundation does and the hope that Lance gives to survivors and grieving family members is a recurring theme. Bill does this well – he speaks with everyone at races, from hardcore fans to hangers on who know nothing about the sport of cycling except for the name Lance. These encounters make you realize the far reaching impact of Lances work – both on and off the bike.

The doping also gets a big mention, how could it not? You can’t write a book about Lance Armstrong without devoting a large chunk of it to the allegations that have dogged Lance for the last 13 years. Bill remains impartial, but offers a good summary of the situation as it stood at the end of 2009. It is interesting to note that the since the release of Tour de Lance, Bill has officially jumped the fence and joined the long list of those who believe he is a cheat – I think the statements by all-round good guy George Hincapie were enough to sway him. I wonder if this admission has ended the friendship?!

For me, perhaps the most enjoyable aspects of this novel were the few pages here and there where Bill gets sidetracked. During his 25 years career he has amassed a formidable knowledge of international cycling competition and its main protagonists. As a cycling fan I found these little diversions entertaining, particularly the three-page account of the romantic tragedy that was the life of cycling legend Fausto Coppi, and the tales of some of the TdF’s most famous Lanterne Rouge’s who fought for the honour of last place. Concerning last place Bill writes the following – a quote I will not soon forget:
In the Tour de France, you can’t coast into last place; you have to tear yourself apart for the honour.   
 I liked this book – this is a pretty glowing review, I must admit. I never have been much of a critic. It is yet another novel about Lance Armstrong - one of our sports most interesting characters – but one that should perhaps sit closer to the top of the pile. 4 out of 5 stars!

Elizabeth Kreutz – Comeback 2.0 Up Close and Personal

During the 2009 season, the comeback season of Lance Armstrong, Lance gave unrestricted access to photographer Elizabeth Kreutz, to visually document his comeback. It’s a similar story to Bill Strickland and Tour de Lance really.

This is pretty much like every other sport coffee table book – minimal text and really beautiful pictures. It would be hard to stuff one of these up! The introduction by Lance is interesting and he offers captions for almost all the images, which is great for context.

You have to wonder if he had a big hand in the compilation of the book as it is strategically put together; it has Lance in training, Lance racing, Lance with celebrities, Lance campaigning for cancer and Lance speaking with government officials (there’s even a pic with K Rudd!). I guess it is a side effect of Lance’s spectacular, tumultuous and controversial career that we now question the motivations behind everything he does. 

I like Lance Armstrong, I think he is one of the biggest names in cycling, and international cycling would not be the same without him. Honestly, I think he probably did cheat, but it still takes an incredible athlete to achieve what he did (doper or not). I am a fan. Therefore, I enjoyed this book, and any fan would. It was particularly great to flip through it whilst reading Tour de Lance, as it provides the visuals for Bill Strickland’s account of the 2009 comeback. Again, 4 out of 5 stars.

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