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Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force

Glen Watson

Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force

by Daniel Coyle

Collins Willow, $225

There's not a lot about Lance Armstrong - who conquered the Tour de France seven times and beat testicular cancer - that hasn't been written about him or by him. Fortunately, the sport in which the American excels is full of drama and excitement, as well as doping allegations.

The characters are complex, often coming from humble or horrible beginnings. The athletes push themselves to their physical limits - and often beyond. Many consider the three-week Tour de France to be the most punishing sporting event of all.

All of this gives magazine writer Daniel Coyle plenty of material for his book about last year's competition. Coyle captured Armstrong and the bizarre cast of characters around him by moving to Europe for 15 months from his home in Alaska. He obtained a unique look at the murky, superstitious and heated world of cycling.

More importantly, he was given access to Armstrong - no mean feat when hundreds clamour each day of the Tour to have a few seconds with the US rider (either to praise him or spit at him). On one of the Tour's most difficult mountain stages, more than 500,000 people watched the riders, many of them shouting obscenities at the American cyclist.

Armstrong is a complex person, but sees things in black and white, good or bad. There's no maybe. Coyle shares his thoughts about what it's like to be one-on-one with the cyclist, as well as the views of Armstrong's inner circle, many of whom seem wary of offending him, even when he's not in the room.

The writer was also witness to the early relationship between the recently divorced Armstrong and his new rock star girlfriend, Sheryl Crow, who was nicknamed Juanita Cuervo by the entourage as they prepared for last year's Tour. She's one of the many celebrities who appear in the book.

Coyle's book isn't the definitive tome on Armstrong. It captures a period - often chaotic, despite the subject's desire to control everything and everyone around him - in the career of an athlete who would not let cancer, the media, his enemies or another cyclist defeat him.

Last month, while on the victory podium in Paris at the end of the Tour and his career, Armstrong took one last shot at the journalists, authors and others who have suggested that his Tour record and other cycling feats were mostly the product of performance-enhancing drugs.

'For people who don't believe in cycling - the cynics and the sceptics - I'm sorry that you can't dream big and that you don't believe in miracles,' he said. 'Vive le Tour, forever.'