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Book review - July 24, 2007
It's the Tour - let's get those (doping - not cycling) books out
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
Each year just before the Tour de France, new books about cycling hit the shelves and this year is no different. American Floyd Landis, who at this time is still in the record books as the 2006 Tour de France champion, has an autobiography (co-written with Bicycling Magazine editor Loren Mooney) called Positively False: The Real Story Of How I Won The Tour De France.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, yet another book authored by The Sunday Times sportswriter David Walsh, has been released, titled: From Lance To Landis: Inside The American Doping Controversy at the Tour De France. Many may recall the Walsh name; he is the long-time bete noire of Lance Armstrong and co-author of LA Confidentiel and LA Officiel, two controversial books that targeted the seven-time Tour winner, but were never published in English
Both of these new releases have some interesting and potentially confidential revelations, but neither has anything particularly ground-breaking or explosive.
Coming so soon on the heels of the extensive coverage of the Landis arbitration hearing for his positive test for testosterone during last year's Tour, Positively already seems somewhat dated. Printed before the arbitration hearings began in California earlier this year, Positively does not include any of the controversy, drama, pathos and baffling science from the proceedings by both the United States Anti-Drug Agency (USADA) and the Landis defense team, who presented their respective cases last May at the Pepperdine University.
What comes out in Positively is a re-hash of the 'Wiki defense' of Landis, already posted on the internet and covered by bloggers on sites like Trustbutverify.Org.
However, Positively does include some fascinating reading about Landis, despite Mooney's loose writing style, but it does not capture the unique personality of Landis and often reads like a magazine article.
This writer has done many interviews and diary entries with Landis since 2001 (Landis wrote a diary for CN for several years). His dry, ironic humour and unique personality are things that have made him so endearing to many cycling fans. Unlike many top pros, Landis has always been a breath of fresh air; a regular guy. That has been much of his appeal to his fan base. He comes from a modest Mennonite upbringing; he's still a hard-headed Pennsylvania farm boy who has shown the talent, drive and desire to get to the top of the sport since he won the USA NORBA Junior Championship in mountain biking at age 17.
(Most American professional cyclists come from an upper middle-class background, in sharp contrast to the working-class roots that are still strong in the European peloton. Most European pro riders today have the equivalent of a high school diploma, as many left school in their late teens to race their bikes full-time, largely because they were already among elite riders.)
Despite his success, and the turmoil in his life since July 2006, Landis never lost his sense of self and his family values that came out so strongly when he testified in the USADA arbitration hearings, but this Floyd seldom emerges in Positively.
The first two chapters of Positively provide a detailed look at Landis' life on his family's small farm in Farmersville, PA, and explain how Landis developed the toughness and hard-headed determination that would eventually get him on US Postal's Tour de France team in his first season with the squad.
His progression from second-tier mountain biker to Tour rider is outlined in a simplistic manner, as Mooney seems to portray the ride of Landis as almost 'business as usual'.
However, it was far from smooth in those early days as a pro road racer.
After transitioning from John Wordin's imploding Mercury team to Postal, Landis's learning curve became much steeper and his performances markedly improved. Landis became close to the team's leader, Armstrong, often training with the Tour champ and learning about his perfectionism and focus.
Invariably, he applied it to his own training and racing.
He needed it. After a broken hip in training and a tense comeback saga in 2003 to make the USPS team for the Tour de France at the last moment, Landis recounts how he went through a difficult contract renewal process in 2004 at US Postal.
While other riders were renewing their contracts, Landis had no word from the team management as the Tour started that year. The atmosphere was tense at Postal as the Tour kicked off in Liege because Armstrong was going for his record sixth consecutive win. Having heard nothing from Postal, Landis followed up on an approach from another former USPS rider, Tyler Hamilton, who'd signed on with Swiss pro team Phonak.
As Positively recounts, the tension rose for Landis at the 2004 Tour because Armstrong and Postal sports manager Johan Bruyneel had learned from Armstrong's close friend (and Phonak team consultant) Jim Ochowicz, the current President of USA Cycling, that Landis was talking to Phonak.
This writer remembers discussing this incident with an angry, shaken Landis after the 2004 team presentation in Liege, where he recounted that Armstrong and Bruyneel had pressed him strongly before the start, saying that he was going to ride for Hamilton and was going to disloyal to the team. Landis didn't know what hit him as he faced the blowtorch from both Armstrong & Bruyneel.
One inaccuracy jumps out from the pages of Positively (page 62) where it presented an inaccurate version of one event involving this writer.
Landis and Mooney write, "In the middle of the (2002) Tour, a reporter from a cycling website asked (me) about my old team Mercury and the status of the riders being paid …".
The passage attempts to recount this actual incident: Landis received a PDF letter attached to an email from the then UCI President, Hein Verbruggen, that requested the rider retract a statement made to Cyclingnews about Landis's impressions of the UCI, and its willingness to pursue team owners who default on outstanding payments to riders.
While the interview with Landis did take place, it actually occurred in October 2003 at the World Road Cycling Championships in Hamilton, Canada and was published on November 17, 2003.
As the "reporter from a cycling website", I was copied on the letter sent to Landis and Cyclingnews. The website, while maintaining its editorial independence, did publish a follow-up statement that primarily served to protect the rider from the legal action being threatened by the UCI.
However, unless you were a total Landis fan and trainspotter (or a senior CN editor) you wouldn't realize the timing was inaccurate, and this concerns me - what else could be wrong in this hastily-written biography?
Further, the motivation for rushing it out while the doping case continues seems only to state the claims of the cyclist and capitalise on the timing of the Tour de France, because one thing is for certain, the final chapter in the career of Floyd Landis is still be written.
Floyd Landis' Positively False: The Real Story Of How I Won The Tour De France can be purchased from Amazon.com.
(Cyclingnews will soon publish a review and analysis of the latest Walsh book.)
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