Dopey Armstrong eventually spoke the truth

SEVEN DEADLY SINS<br>My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong</br><b>David Walsh</b><br><i>Simon & Schuster</i>
SEVEN DEADLY SINS<br>My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong</br><b>David Walsh</b><br><i>Simon & Schuster</i>
In 1999, Briton David Walsh watched American Lance Armstrong blitz the field on the hill climbs to win his first Tour de France.

While many of his fellow sports journalists reported the feat by the cancer survivor in breathless terms, the fact Armstrong zipped up the climbs with an ease not seen in his previous four tours left Walsh shaking his head.

The Sunday Times, London, journalist believed Armstrong must be doping and set out to find proof. His suspicions were well founded, but it would take 12 long years before the American cyclist was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, such was the power of Armstrong Inc in silencing the doubters.

This fascinating book details how Walsh doggedly chased Armstrong and finally saw him nailed. His books and articles no doubt contributed to the resolve of bodies like the US Anti-doping Agency (Usada) to pursue the cyclist, which led to his spectacular fall from grace.

Walsh describes how he winkled out riders, team officials and others willing to talk about what they saw while they were close to Armstrong. He wangled a trip to New Zealand to interview former Kiwi pro Stephen Swart, who rode in Armstrong's Motorola team in the early '90s and later testified Armstrong coerced team members into blood-doping, using EPO, not detectable by testing procedures at that time.

This  editorial cartoon depicting Lance Armstrong  by cartoonist Steve Sack,  published in the...
This editorial cartoon depicting Lance Armstrong by cartoonist Steve Sack, published in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartoon. Image from Reuters.
It didn't take Walsh long to find out Armstrong was regularly spending time with Italian Dr Michelle Ferrari, who by the early '90s had established himself as ''a high priest of performance enhancement'', according to Walsh.

Walsh's supportive employers felt the full power of Armstrong Inc when their journalist co-wrote the book LA Confidentiel in 2004, a book about doping in cycling only published in French because of threats of lawsuits. The Sunday Times published an article based on the book and was sued by Armstrong, having to pay 600,000 and apologise.

Walsh writes that Armstrong had so perfected his team doping operation he had ''become the ringleader of the most sophisticated professional and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen''. Granted, some other riders were most likely also riding ''enhanced'', but they weren't winning seven Tours de France and intimidating journalists.

Last August, Armstrong suddenly announced he would not contest Usada's evidence against him. In doing so, he understood ''this course of action will lead to the imposition of a lifetime ban and disqualification of all results since 1998, including his seven Tour de France wins'', Walsh writes.

The rest is history and the only thing left was the Oprah interview (held after this book was published), during which the host drew an apology to Walsh out of the cyclist. Walsh said later the apology meant nothing. I guess he long ago learned not to believe anything Armstrong said.

To sum up, this is more than a sports book - it's testament to the power of journalism to get to the truth, no matter what forces try to keep it locked away. Truth will out, as Shakespeare once wrote.

- John Fridd is a Dunedin journalist.

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