Lance Armstrong was once the American hero of cycling, brought down by his admission of doping. Or was he? Juliet Macur, a New York Times journalist who followed Armstrong’s career, gives us a biography of this controversial cycling star, once a hero, a successful comeback story, a triumph over cancer brought down by his willingness to do anything to win.
I don’t make much of a secret of the fact that I hate Lance Armstrong. I’m a huge fan of cycling (the sport—while I’ll get on a spin bike regularly, you’ll rarely see me out and about on a bicycle), and Lance Armstrong almost singlehandedly brought that sport down. How? That’s what Juliet Macur chronicles in her fascinating and strange biography Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong.
Macur takes the reader back to Lance’s origins, to his relationship with his mother and various stepfathers, to discover the origins of his need to win at any cost in Cycle of Lies. The word “sociopath” has been whispered to describe Armstrong before, and in this case, it appears to be the truth. It’s chilling, the way Macur describes him, his lack of remorse and inability to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong in his life. Even to this day, he describes himself as a victim when, as Macur makes clear, he’s anything but. He’s a perpetrator of fraud; not the only one, of course, as doping has been a systematic issue in cycling for years, but the person who institutionalized it and made it clear that if you weren’t doping, you didn’t have a place on his team.
I normally read nonfiction books in pieces, simply because they read slower than fiction, but Cycle of Lies was a book I read cover to cover in one sitting. Macur’s writing is sharp, her pace breathless, and her research is thorough. I’m a die-hard fan of cycling, so it’s easy to understand why I inhaled this book. But I believe it also would appeal to any person curious about Armstrong’s impact on the sport, and how things ended up the way they did, without any real background knowledge of cycling. Macur makes sure her book is accessible to any level of cycling literacy; the impact is in the narrative, the story she tells, rather than the knowledge the reader does or does not possess. And what an impact it has.
There were times while I was reading Cycle of Lies that I was so mad, I could spit—Macur’s in-depth journalism isn’t afraid to get emotional and pull those strings. She never resorts to gimmicks, though. She puts together an ambitious story, a portrait of a man who needed to win at any cost and what it cost all of us in return.