Review: Every Second Counts – Lance Armstrong

Despite believing that Lance Armstrong was a drug using cheat, I really enjoyed his first book “It’s not about the bike“. It was a well written, compelling story. Lance is a wonderful example for everyone, not just – cyclists or cancer patients, regardless of whether he’s using performance enhancing substances or not.

“It’s Not About The Bike” was not near enough to dissuade me that Lance’s actions on Stage 18 of TDF 2004 were anything but the actions of a bully forcing a smaller man to keep his mouth shut and not speak out against drugs in cycling. Even after the stage Lance said:

I was protecting the interests of the peloton. The other riders were very grateful.

It’s difficult to interpret this statement and his “zip your lips” message to Simeoni in a positive light, in any other way but “don’t speak pubically about drugs”.

After reading “It’s Not About The Bike” I had a strong admiration for Lance and the way he got through his cancer ordeal, and his cycling performances were phenomenal, drugs or no drugs.

What about “Every Second Counts“?

Well the first thing I’ll say is that I picked this up at about 1am on a work night as some light reading before I went to sleep. I turned off my bedside lamp at 5.30am hoping that I’d survive the day on 3 hours sleep after reading all 250 pages straight through. Bonus point to Sally Jenkins – what a fantastic writer! If you are a world-famous athlete wanting to tell your story with a ghost writer, there’s no one better.

The story takes us from his preparation for his second Tour de France victory in 2000 all the way to his fourth consecutive victory in 2003. As a cyclist and sports fan I really enjoyed his description of training and the races themselves. The other part of the story is human – dealing with the events of September 11th 2001, dealing with children, his cancer foundation, the annoyance of dealing with shameful French bureaucracy.

He did mention Stage 18 ’04, giving his side of the story in a few words. Although I’m not convinced by his explanation and I still think it showed the character traits of a bully, I must admit that the book did originally influenced me back to believing he was a clean rider. I can’t pinpoint exactly why. I think it was a combination of the way he talked about the drugs tests and their effect on his life. The book is very personal at times and after reading it I feel I know how the guy thinks. I may not like him, but I have massive respect.

To summarise: this is an excellent book – 9/10. It’s better than his first, and better than most sports autobiographies you’ll find. I recommend that everyone read this book, you might find it inspiring, or simply a captivating page-turner.

Update 2012: In response to some abusive comments left here and recently updates in the Lance story, I’ll clarify my thoughts on Lance cheating. I believe that there’s now no doubt that Armstrong not only cheated, but he probably has masterminded one of the greatest sporting frauds in known history. He has been stripped of all 7 Tour titles – but not his ill-gained prize money.

Armstrong tested positive for corticosteroids in the 1999 TDF and the UCI let him off with a back dated script, even though it was against the rules (it should have been a 2 year ban). USADA now has confirmation from Swiss anti-doping laboratory director Martial Saugy that Armstrong tested positve for EPO at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland (Armstrong should have received a ban of 10 years for this). Saugy also confirmed meeting with Armstrong and Bruyneel to discuss those 2001 positive tests. The UCI also confirmed that Armstrong donated $100,000 and another $25,000 to the UCI at the time of those positive tests. And allegedly, USADA recently re-tested some of Lance’s old urine samples with new tests and they have come back as positive.
I’ll leave the last word to Matt Seaton:

What is astounding and disturbing is that one man – a dominant personality as well as a dominant athlete – was able to enforce his will, isolate, bully and silence his doubters and critics, and win the world’s top cycling event year after year and make people believe in him, despite there being, apparently, dozens of witnesses to its utter phoniness. Too many people had too much invested in the Lance Armstrong story, and the power of persuasion followed the money.

The moral of the story is that if a cyclist looks too good to be true, then he probably is. But if a cyclist looks too good to be true and has an entourage of lawyers, press flaks, doctors and bodyguards, then he definitely is.