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September 1, 2005
By: Naomi Bloom

Le Blitz de Lance


So, you thought the Tour de Lance media blitz would die down some after inundating last year's victory #6, did you? Yeah. Right. Even if you never tuned intoOLN to witness all the pre-Tour hype this year, how could you avoid the TV, print and online onslaught?

Personally I've been enjoying most of it. It was entertaining and even informative, as long as I chose well.

It started well before July 2, with coverage by Sports Illustrated and even Playboy, which concluded, "It's safe to say there's very little sex going on during the Tour de France, if any."

Sports Illustrated featured some cogent articles, although columnist Rick Reilly couldn't help bragging about his day in the "Discovery Team car": "It's a very odd thing to chat for a minute with Lance Armstrong out your car window while he's riding in the Tour."

Once the Tour ended, did the blitz? Not a chance. Everywhere you look these days, there's our hero. On network TV. On the newsstand. On the Web.

Must-see TV

We needn't have worried. OLN had the Lance Armstrong Retrospective. Letterman and Charlie Rose ran interviews (at the same time). I missed Letterman but got to see a recording of CR and Lance.

Hey, Lance gives good interview. "You're a genetic freak," Rose said accusingly. "Thank you," Lance responded. Then they got serious. "My job or mission is not to be the greatest cyclist in the world," he explained. My mission is to win the Tour de France and use that to help others. It's the one race we Americans can relate to."

"They [Lance and Charlie] seem to have a real connection and genuinely like each other," observed Sammarye Lewis, a.k.a. Velogal, in her popular blog. "Charlie asked Lance to keep coming back, even if he is now retired, and Lance immediately agreed. He said the CR show is his absolute favorite for appearances."

Nearly all the interviews, articles and retrospectives did cover similar topics: Cancer. Competitiveness ("gotta win at all costs"). Doping controversies. Sheryl Crow.

Book blitz

Maybe the best way to get under Lance's skin (in an intellectual way, you understand) would be with a good book. I chose Daniel Coyle's new bestseller, Lance Armstrong's War, subtitled (deep breath!): "One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France."

It's not exactly an intimate portrait of Lance so much as an up-close-and-personal investigation of the environment that surrounds him, his team and retinue. Researched "on location" last year, it focuses on some of Lance's most prominent colleagues -- Ullrich, Landis, Hamilton, Charmichael, Bruyneel, etc.

"Fueled by superb reporting and the built-in suspense of the 2004 Tour, Lance Armstrong's War is the equal of its distinguished and very complicated subject," enthused a review at Booknoise.net.

A former senior editor of Outside magazine and an admitted Lance fan, Coyle realized in 2003 that he didn't really know much about the world of international pro racing. "We've been watching Armstrong win the Tour like new baseball fans might have watched Babe Ruth hit home runs. There's a collective sense that we want to move closer, move down from the upper deck, understand what's going on, how the game is played, and how Armstrong plays it," he told a Booknoise interviewer.

So last year he moved his family to Girona, Spain, where Lance and many of his peloton cohorts live during pre-Tour training. As a neighbor he was able to cover it all, from training regimens to yellow bracelets to doping controversies to the team strategies and tactics.

His own impression, reiterated in the book and at Booknoise: "Lance is smart, charismatic, incredibly hardworking, and he does a lot of good works, especially within the cancer community. All that has led most of us to the misimpression that he's saintlike or even cuddly. He's not, by a long shot."

"My goal was to tell the story clearly, fairly, and accurately. In March, I sent Armstrong a draft of the book to read for corrections and clarifications; he didn't respond. I don't know if that means he hates it or loves it, or (maybe more likely) somewhere in between."

Well, I loved it. One good reason is that Coyle can write, an attribute often completely absent in people who earn good money to expound on our sport. Too many of them are hopelessly ignorant of grammar, style and wit. A lot are just as ignorant of what bike racing -- or any form of cycling -- is about. Some, sadly, are both.

One who is neither doesn't quite agree with me. Sam Abt, who works for the International Herald Tribune and often reports on the tour for the New York Times, "It sounds not quite right," he wrote in his review. "The line between being single-minded and being dictatorial can be a thin one, and Coyle often appears to smudge it because some of the people he talked to have grudges. If Armstrong is demanding, even a bit overboard in his them-and-us philosophy, somebody could have been found to say that he is also generous, likable and, yes, admirable."

"News to an insider," is how Abt described some of Coyle's references to nicknames and epithets among those truly inside the pale. I'm no insider myself, but I got a kick out of that stuff, like Sheryl Crow's nickname, Juanita Cuervo ("crow" in Spanish) and the consistent "whoof-shrug" expressions of the Belgian mechanics.

Coyle also reveals many of Lance's business connections; he is part owner of Tailwind Sports, which in turn owns the USPS (now Discovery Channel) team.

So far Lance Armstrong's War is the only book riding the coattails of the Lance Blitz that's made it to the NY Times Best-Sellers List. But if you're still suffering withdrawal symptoms, you can also bury your nose in quite a few more:

Inside the Postal Bus: My Ride with Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Cycling Team by Michael Barry
Barry was on the USPS "B" team last year. Word is that he fills the book with a lot of detail but not much about Lance.

23 Days In July: Inside Lance Armstrong's Record-Breaking Tour De France Victory by John Wilcockson and Graham Watson
Named a "Best Book of 2004" by ESPN. But one reviewer slammed to poor editing (hmm. . .Wilcockson is Editorial Director of VeloNews. Could this book have been produced with the same slapdash editorial attitude?)

Lance Armstrong: Images of a Champion
Possibly the best coffee table cycling book ever released.

Lance Armstrong : A Biography by Bill Gutman
Published in 2003. Rated for junior high level.

Lance Armstrong: The Race of His Life by Kristin Armstrong Written by Lance's ex when they were still married. Definitely for kids, even under age 9. Got some rave reviews from parents.

Less means more?

So now that the Blitz de Lance is finally quieting down a bit, what's of the future? Will we see more blitzes, as big and pervasive as this one? Or will it all die down for good?

Not likely, says VeloGal. "I think we are gonna see lotsa Lance next cycling season. . . .We need his name and support to keep the cycling fan momentum going. "

Lance himself told Charlie Rose, "I'll be in Paris every year -- that's my team." And who will be on his team? "If Jan could come to Discovery, we'd take him in a heartbeat," Lance replied. But it's not very likely. Ditto for Basso, who apparently turned him down more than once.

Meanwhile, keep your eye on the silver screen. According to RoadBikeRider, "Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon looks likely to play Lance in a movie based on It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. Damon, 35, reportedly is Lance's choice for the role."

Spare me. I've now had my fill of le blitz de Lance, merci beaucoup. At least until next summer's Tour de France.

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