as i'm sure you're tired of hearing, i live midst eight malt whisky distilleries (nine if you include the one on jura), and a portion of the daily workload involves working at the local newspaper, though not as a reporter, you'll be pleased to hear. and as is often the case in the world of newspapers, we occasionally receive review copies of books, not coincidentally often whisky books. you can perhaps imagine the rapture with which yet another book about malt whisky is greeted in the office, not least because each successive author seems hell bent on explaining the process by which barley and water is alchemied (not sure if that's a proper word, but it is now) into the gold liquid which earns the british exchequer a veritable fortune, and draws thousands of visitors to our shores year on year. simple statement of fact: the world does not need another book about malt whisky.
transfer our loyalties over to the world of cycling, and a similar mode of rejoicing tends to be associated with yet another book about lance armstrong. and lest you you infer that mr armstrong does not feature on my favourites list, i am happy to prove you wrong. granted, i have grown particularly weary of the incessant media attention that seemingly accompanies his every move, and i can't say that his twitter account has added to my wordly education, but someone who has been through cancer and come out the other end to win seven tours de france (and currently sitting in third place in this year's tour) is deserving of more than just a little respect. i do think sometimes lance is his own worst enemy, but that's something that could be said about any number of folks, both in and out of the cycling world; i have the greatest respect for the guy.
and somebody else for whom i have a great deal of respect is the author of this new book on lance; john wilcockson. during the everybody has a book in them about marco pantani years, john was one of the very few who produced a volume that remembered marco in the light that showed him at his best. and this book about lance follows a similar set of optimistic values. this is a sport that ostensibly we are all in love with, and while there may be aspects of it that deserve to be analysed and despised in great detail, it's a joy to read pages that celebrate the career of one of the giants of the sport, without feeling it necessary to dig some dirt, or imply underhandedness without so much as a shred of real evidence. i agree that there is no point in pretending all is roses in the professional peloton, but there's a time and a place.
of course, a book about lance without the mention of the accusations that have been made across the seven wins would be a bit like winnie the pooh without eeyore, but mr wilcockson has seen fit not to have the book revolve round these accusations. if you've ever seen one of those documentaries about how movies are made, you will be aware that each scene is filmed from several different angles before being finally edited into a seamless sequence, presenting the director's reality in a manner that will be (hopefully) appreciable to all. john has achieved the literary equivalent, interviewing a vast number of lance's friends and family from across his entire life; from childhood to the point where he decided that an eighth tour might just be a cycling reality. his astoundingly clever strategy that has threaded the whole book together, is the masterful way that the author has put these interviews together in a filmic manner: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. it is part tribute, part appraisal of the life and career of a cyclist the like of whom we are unlikely to see again for many a long year.
so while many of you will have greeted the heading of this review with perhaps the same cloud of anticipation as myself, this is a stunningly good book. if we separate content from structure, there is a lot of concrete evidence in here that explains why lance is lance, and whether you're a fan or not, there is stuff here that may change your mind, or perhaps confirm the opinion already held. either way, it's an excellent read that is certainly deserving of your attention whether pro, con or sitting on the fence.
however, given the 2009 comeback, it is unlikely to be the last word.
posted on friday 17 july 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................