Book Review: WHEELMEN — Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever

wheelmenCycling has been a part of my life since childhood. As a teenager I started racing and touring. I hung out with the local senior racers. I remember the young Greg LeMond (he’s my age) and some other members of the Junior National Team were scheduled to come to our local criterium. In the end the Juniors rode as a team and won the Senior Cat I/II race, as we watched in awe. I was on RAGBRAI (a weeklong ride across Iowa) with about 10,000 other cyclists to cheer LeMond’s tour wins.

So, when Lance Armstrong became the second American to win the Tour de France I (and every other American cyclist) cheered. When Lance won again, and again, and again … I believed that perhaps the European hegemony in cycling might be over. Armstrong might turn out to be a great American champion — like Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault. When accusations of doping surfaced against Armstrong, I was in denial … I refused to believe that my champion, our champion was somehow tainted. Then, when Armstrong began attacking his critics I saw it as the righteous indignation of an innocent man.

But then something happened that shook even my faith in Lance Armstrong. That something was actually someone — Greg LeMond. When LeMond came out and accused Armstrong of doping I began to consider that Armstrong could really be guilty. Since then of course Armstrong publicly confessed on the Oprah Winfrey show.

This week I read Wheelmen — Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever. The book chronicles Armstrong’s rise to the top of the cycling world, the sports world and then celebrity in general. It also describes his fall from grace.

Through it, I saw a picture of Lance Armstrong very different from his carefully manged media persona. In previous years, Armstrong has come to Iowa to ride RAGBRAI. In years past he has ridden with an entourage and spoken to thousands at concerts and other events in the evening. Last year, after his confession on Oprah, Armstrong came back to Iowa to ride RAGBRAI. I believe that at the time I said that Armstrong was welcome as long he was just another rider … not a celebrity.

After reading this book let me say this. “This former fan and RAGBRAI veteran since 1977 has this to say, ‘Lance, stay home’”

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