Winter is a good time to read. My friend DJ read the book Lance Armstrong's War (excerpt, Amazon) and lent me his copy. The book as about the 2004 Tour de France with a focus on Lance Armstrong (in his quest for his 5th win) and the other key players and events of that race. I read it over the last month or so and here are my thoughts:
The author, Daniel Coyle, is a writer/journalist who seems to go where his interests (or perhaps assignments) take him. You get the distinct impression he didn't know much about pro cycling before taking on this project. I found it refreshing to see this world peeled open layer upon layer as Coyle digs deeper as he goes.
The book has an odd feel about it because it doesn't read like a historical account. Coyle generally follows a linear timeline, but he skips some events while focusing deeply on others. I believe his idea is to attempt to give the reader the feel of pro cycling rather than just a recitation of facts and events. To this end Coyle is quite successful.
Coyle began by moving to Girona, Spain to be near Lance and the Postal team as well as Tyler Hamilton who lived upstairs from Armstrong. As a journalist he went about his business of interviews and investigating. I enjoyed the many details he reveals that gives you a flavor for the sport and each cyclist - here are a few:
- Cyclists are always checking each other out to determine their current fitness. They will pull another rider close and pinch their midsection to judge bodyfat. They look at butts. A skinny butt, like that of a gymnast, is a sign of a cyclist who is in peak condition.
- Cyclists, like those in other sports, are superstitious. They believe just about any good luck, bad luck thing you've ever heard - and I few I hadn't heard of.
- Cyclist are also very wary of illness. I'd call them germaphobes, but this is not a psycholigcal condition, it's a reality of cycling - any illness slows you down. They try not to touch things with their hands and in short practice excellent hygiene to decrease the odds they'll catch some bug.
Of course Coyle spends a lot of words on Lance. Most people will know that Lance is a fierce competitor and very driven. But I found it interesting that he was so hyper about knowing everything. His Blackberry was always going - bringing him this news about a competitor, or that news about an on-going lawsuit. Everyone on Lance's team affirmed that it was very bad thing if you had info that you didn't pass along to Lance.
The book also covers the Postal team. Of course he talks about Landis, Hincapie, Coyle and the rest of the "Posties". But he also covers Lance's doctor (for want of a better title) Dr. Michele Ferrari, his mechanic Anderson. Add in the competitors, Jan Ulrich, Ivan Basso, etc., and you get a complex cast of characters that formed the drama of the 2004 Tour.
Overall it was a good read that gave me more insight into the nearly insane world of pro cycling.