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Tour De France Book Reviews, Recommendations

I Never Tested Positive
While Writing These Reviews

What a crazy era it's been in the world of competitive cycling. A spectator at one cycling forum once compared the Tour de France to the TV show Survivor: "We don't tune in to see the race. We tune in each day to see who's going to get voted off the peloton."

The saga started, in a way, with Floyd Landis's "back from the dead" ride in 2006. Here's what I wrote then:

2006

He's done. He's won. Nope, he's done. Wow! He's won. He's really won. He's standing on the podium. Oops, he doped. He's done.

That more or less describes Floyd Landis's topographical and emotional yo-yo of a ride at this year's Tour de France. From unheralded contender to frontrunner to his terrible collapse in Stage 16 and remarkable comeback the very next day, Landis changed from goat to hero to suspect in less than two weeks. And the saga's not over yet. (Update 2013: Okay, now it's over.)

Whether Landis ends up guilty or innocent, just think how upset Alexandre Vinokourov must be. He was in the clear himself, but couldn't ride because five of his teammates were suspected of doping. And now they've just been cleared. Meanwhile the winner, who used to be in the clear, is now suspected of doping. What a strange year. Better luck next year, Vino. Don't forget to not take your meds.

As Landis zoomed to the finish line in Stage 17, I was thinking he just earned himself a book contract and a place on next year's bestseller list. Sort of like Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike
. Perhaps he would've called it It’s Not About the Bonk. He still has a book in him, but now it's going to need a new chapter or two, and a not-so-happy ending.
 

2007

Win or lose or get disqualified, Alexandre Vinokourov sure knows how to entertain. Tragically, I could almost reuse the same first paragraph as last year, this time substituting Vino's name for Landis's:

He's won (pre-race favorite). Nope, he's done (crash). He's really done, and he's taking Kloden down with him. Wait, he's back (time trial victory). Nope, he's done (thirty minutes lost). Damn, he's lost the yellow jersey for sure, but what a stage win! Wonder if he'll pick up a couple more stage wins. Oh, well, apparently not (doping scandal).

Michael Rasmussen and his team contributed plenty to the soap opera. Everyone thought he was going for the King of the Mountains jersey. No one thought he could win or hold on to the maillot jaune.

Oh, he's sure to lose it next stage. (He doesn't.) Or the stage after that, then. (He still doesn't.) He'll lose it during the time trial. (Still not.) Okay, but the other contenders will make up time in the Pyrenees. (They don't.)

Just when everyone was resigned to Rasmussen winning, his team suddenly fires him! Contador wins! (Or maybe not. Looks like another doping scandal's brewing on the horizon. Time will tell.) In the meantime, have they made a final ruling in the Floyd Landis case yet? (When I first wrote this, no.) Sure seemed strange knowing who won in 2007 before we knew who won officially in 2006.

Lance Armstrong's War, by Daniel Coyle

All of this is leading up to a book recommendation: Lance Armstrong's War, by Daniel Coyle. It's more about the race itself and the grueling training that goes with professional cycling than it is about doping allegations, though of course there's some of that business, too. Mostly, though, Lance Armstrong's War is an observer's view of an incredibly challenging sport and the personalities and soap operas and scandals that accompany it.

I look forward in the years ahead to reading the new accounts that are bound to be (re)written about this era of the Tour de France, now that the dirty laundry is out in the open.

Reviews and reflections by Eric Pinder

Capsule Reviews of more Tour de France books

It's Not About the Bike
by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins

Recent confessions taint this book, but it's still an interesting read. It's Not About the Bike is half about the bike and half about battling cancer. As such, it's an engaging story even for people who aren't necessarily cycling enthusiasts. Sadly, though, the doping scandal means it should probably be shelved in the fiction section.

Overcoming adversity and rebuilding one's life after a crisis is the theme. The personal half of the book covers Lance's upbringing, the lack of support or understanding for his high school cycling exploits in football-crazy Texas, his romance with his future wife, Kik, and his painful treatment and recovery from cancer. The bicycle half of the book is about his first Tour de France victory. I enjoyed this book a lot, on first reading.

Every Second Counts
by Lance Armstrong with Sally Jenkins

Every Second Counts has more bike, less cancer. Still a decent read, though I didn't like it as much as It's Not About the Bike. It's shorter and breezier than its predecessor. I get the feeling that a metaphorical lightbulb went on over someone's head: "Hey, Lance, your first book was a huge success, and you keep winning that silly bike race, so let's quickly write a sequel." Still, the inside (but, we now know, incomplete) view of Armstrong and his competitors during another Tour win is entertaining to read. Great book title, too.

Doping Books

As noted above, right after the Landis scandal broke in July 2006, I predicted he'd be back with a bestseller in 2007. Sure enough, here it is. The title is Positively False: The True Story of How I Won the Tour de France, and it briefly climbed up the bestseller lists with the speed of Michael Rassmussen zooming up the Alpe de…well, maybe that's not such a good analogy anymore.

Right next to Landis's book on the shelf is From Lance to Landis, accusing Armstrong and Landis and the sport of cycling in general of all sorts of chicanery and corruption. (I've always wanted an excuse to use the word "chicanery" in a sentence.)

Read more about From Lance to Landis and Positively False.