REVIEW The Sporting Lie e’ BY DAN OKO Lance: The Making of the World’s Greatest Champion by John Wilcockson Da Capo Press 400 pages, $26 The Rocket that Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality by Jeff Pearlman HarperCollins 324 pages, $27 I n February, for the first time in years, Lance Armstrong admitted a kind of defeat. The legendary cyclist, who returned to the Tour de France this summer after a three-year retirement, scrapped much-ballyhooed plans to run his own blood-doping tests, an unprecedented program designed to show that he is competing without performance-enhancing drugs. News reports quoted Armstrong’s partners, including anti-doping expert Don Caitlin, saying the cyclist’s bid for total transparency turned out to be too expensive and too complicated to enact, especially alongside cycling’s official doping controls, and that it might create a target for hackers to sabotage Armstrong’s reputation. Pending the race’s outcome in late July, chances are slim that this semisetback will amount to even a marginal black mark on Armstrong’s estimable legacy. Still, considering how regularly Armstrong points out that he’s one of the most drug-tested athletes on earth, there’s something disconcerting about the notion that he would even try to prove his innocence by piling on more protocols. Dogged by persistent doping rumorswhich will surely come up againyou’d think he could have just stuck to his marathons and his new baby and left the Yellow Jersey Circus behind for good. Let them speculate. Armstrong has never failed a drug test, but there is roundabout logic in his pursuit of an innocent verdict. The 2008 Tour’s third-place finisher, 27-year-old Austrian Bernhard Kohl, who was himself busted for doping, told reporters the top io finishers in last year’s Tour could be dirty. It’s worth reiterating that Armstrong did not race last year. His fans will also be quick to point out that the cancer survivor has been using his comeback as a platform to advocate allocation of more resources to cancer research. All those good intentions come through clearly in John Wilcockson’s new biography, Lance: The Making of the World’s Greatest Champion. Although the book was apparently undertaken as an independent biography, once Armstrong decided to compete again in France the veteran cycling journalist was given broad access to the athlete’s inner circle of trainers, teammates and family. Working with Armstrong’s people, Wilcockson is able on the champ’s training techniques, his rise through the ranks and his triumph over family strife and cancer to emerge as one of the planet’s best-known athletes. It’s a trajectory that offers few surprises, but Wilcockson certainly knows the business of bike racing, and he delivers a fine primer for anyone who somehow missed Armstrong’s decade-long saga, or maybe forgot about it during his recent hiatus. What’s missing, though, is any indepth exploration of cycling’s ongoing drug problem. Opportunities to explore the downfall of Armstrong teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, who suffered the ignominy of incriminating test results, are passed over without a second glance. Cycling may or may not be dirtier than other sports, but there is no question that many Tour riders are cheating. Cycling’s Hall of Shame is full. Journalists who confront the question of sports doping often play a sort of mental parlor game that turns on the question: What if you could take a pill that made you a better writer? What if that pill guaranteed professional prizes and a six-figure book contract? Would you take that pill? And would you publicize the fact? \(I’m pretty sure the reader can guess In this celebrity age, access is a form of “performance-enhancer” for professional writers. It can help boost book sales and provide shelter when it comes to the sometimes-litigious strategies stars resort to when they don’t like their treatment in the press. If Wilcockson is not cheating precisely, his unquestioning performance under Armstrong’s influence at least runs the risk of leaving readers wanting. i l lus tra t ion by Dusan Kw ia t kows ki 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 10, 2009
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