Title: Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever
Author: Reed Albergotti & Vanessa O’Connell
Release Date: October 15, 2013
Genre: Nonfiction, Current Events
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Lance Armstrong brought the sport of cycling to the attention of the United States, and in many ways, made cyclists star athletes around the world, bringing attention and notoriety to the sport. Now, in this in-depth journalistic account, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell delve into the sport of cycling and look at how doping was systematic throughout and Armstrong’s role in the entire affair.
A fascinating account of the cycling doping scandal, told through the lens of the frighteningly sociopathic Lance Armstrong, the authors present a well-researched and informative narrative that’s easy to read, whether you know the sport intimately or not.
Pro cycling is not a huge sport in the United States (though I’m an unapologetic fan); the only reason it really has a place in American mainstream culture at all is because of Lance Armstrong, and the subseqent revelations about his role in the doping scandals that have plagued the sport of cycling for years. But what exactly happened, and how did all of that unfold? Journalists Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell make it their mission to find out in Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever.
The book is easy to read, and I’d even go as far to say that a person who isn’t much of a cycling aficionado would enjoy Wheelmen. The authors make sure to introduce all the key players, so regardless of what you already know, you can dive right in. The authors frame the story by making the case that doping in cycling was a systematic, top-down conspiracy, so widespread and at so many levels that it’s really shocking. They do a reasonable job making their case in this respect, with lots of in-depth research to back up their claims.
The lens through which the story of Wheelmen is told is that of Lance Armstrong, and this is where the real revelations of the book are. His sociopathic nature, his selfishness, and his desire to win above all else is pretty revolting, but also fascinating. The sad consequence is that Armstrong’s obsessions had vast repercussions within the sport, turning doping into something entirely systematic, something you had to do in order to even be on the same level as the top riders. The portrayal of Armstrong was incredibly interesting, though I wish more sympathy had been shown to the cyclists who got caught up in this and were told they had to dope or they would be off their teams.
Cycling is in a good place now, after so many fans were dejected by how far doping penetrated into the sport. Those were painful years, and reading this account is both difficult and cathartic. It helps that it’s well-written and engaging, as well as meticulously researched. You can tell that Albergotti and O’Connell have a deep and broad knowledge of the sport and tried as hard as they could to present an interesting narrative about a fascinating antihero who almost singlehandedly brought down an entire sport. If you enjoy investigative journalism at all, even if you don’t know much about cycling, you should give this account a try.