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Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Tour is Won on the Alpe: Book Review

The Tour is Won on the Alpe, Jean Paul Vespini, David V. Herlihy (Translator), Velo Press, 2008.

The Tour is Won on the Alpe is the quintessential reference book, required reading for any cycling fanatic.  No matter what context, your favorite Tour, your favorite rider, controversies, doping, everything is there in well written, short concise summaries.

L' Alpe d' Huez, also known as the Wall of L' Oisans, or the Dutch Mountain, is the queen of Tour de France climbs.

What are the key elements that make this such a sacred cycling ritual?  For starters, it's the geography.  The 14 kilometer (8.7 mile) climb is truly hellish as the elevation rises from 800 meters (2,625 feet) at Bourg d' Oisans to 1,860 meters (6,102 feet) at the summit.  The grade averages 8 percent, a rise of about 50 meters (164 feet) from one hairpin to the next.  The brutal slope becomes especially taxing after the bridge at Romanche, where some sections reach a 14 percent grade before the hamlet of La Garde.  For the uninitiated, it's a voyage into the depths of hell. P.xiv.
The switchbacks of L' Alpe d' Huez are numbered backward from number 21 at the base of the climb to number 1 near the summit.  The turns list a past stage winner's name, the elevation, and the nearest distance to an emergency telephone; a fact that is the constant brunt of rider mirth.

The first climb up L' Alpe d' Huez was run in 1952 and was won by Fausto Coppi, "Campionissimo," who donned the yellow jersey at the summit, which he would retain all the way to Paris.  The 1952 Tour de France was raced during a heat wave of 40+ degree Celsius temperatures, people in Italy were dying from heat exposure.  To slow the pace and deter breakaways, the Tour organizers accused the riders of brandishing their bicycle pumps.  A cartoon depicted the event with a depiction of Phoebus wilting the riders while they rode, with hammer man (the symbol of injury) and the witch with green teeth (the symbol of bad luck) looking on appalled.

Then until the 1976 Tour de France L' Alpe d' Huez was forgotten.  The stage was added almost as an afterthought after a stage was dropped from the Tour route due to a dispute between a developer and a city government official.  The stage was won by Joop Zoetemelk who nipped Lucien van Impe at the line, winning by a three second margin.  Henceforward, the Alpe would become enshrined as a permanent fixture of the Tour de France forever, attracting over the years millions of delirious fans, who fight for prime viewing areas, and who cheer on their favorite heroes in a bedlam environment that defies description.

Jacques Goddet Goes Crazy

Everybody thought that the 1977 Tour de France would be the year of the resurgence of Eddy Merckx, who had already won five Tour de France titles, and who was looking forward to a record number six.  However, during a rest day, after eating celery root, Eddy Merckx was visibly suffering from food poisoning, puking his guts out all over the road.  Everyone thought that Eddy Merckx would abandon at any moment.  Instead, on L' Alpe d' Huez, Eddy Merckx would regain his incredible fluid pedal stroke, and would boast at the summit that he had climbed the Wall of L'Oisans at a faster pace than Hennie Kuiper, who won the stage!  There was no objection to this assertion by Eddy Merckx, in fact people gazed at the greatest cyclist of all time in admiration at another amazing feat of athletic prowess.

But other than the amazing feats of Eddy Merckx the rest of the 1977 Tour de France was raced at what Jacques Goddet considered a snail's pace.  Jacques Goddet claimed that the fanatics were dying of boredom because there were few, if any, breakaways during the race.  In an L' Equipe editiorial Jacques Goddet called for "A plea for a new Tour."

Goddet suggested new attractions, a 100 kilometer (62 mile) team time trial and a motorcycle paced event, along with increased incentives, such as a greatly enhanced prize for "competitiveness" and stiffer penalties, such as annulling all stage specific prizes if the average speed fell below a set minimum.  P.26; italics added.

Jacques Goddet's suggestion to bordered on lunacy.  There were a huge number of big name cyclists who had tested positive for the drug stimul, an amphetamine based cocktail in 1977, including Bernard Thevenet, Eddy Merckx, and Freddy Maertens.   The riders were furious, insisting that they were racing under inhuman conditions, and that they were being denied even rudimentary medications they needed to treat their racing injuries.

Prior to the Tour, on the eve of the Giro in Milan, Eddy Merckx had called the racers to an impromptu meeting in which they demanded that the lists of banned substances be revised to distinguish medicines that cause little or no harm from those that are truly dangerous.  The former were to be tolerated and the latter "rigorously forbidden."  P.27.

Marc Jeuniau, a Belgian journalist and Merckx's longtime confidant, called for fewer mountaintop finishes in order to decrease the racers' incentive to use drugs.  "Whatever happened to all those promises to humanize the Tour?  Instead, the organizers have increased the number of mountaintop finishes.  They've shamelessly eliminated the transitional stages and have even hauled the racers from the end of the Alps straight to the foothills of the Pyrenees.  It is difficult, even inconceivable, to be a professional cyclist in 1977 and not resort to taking stimulants." P.27
But in spite of these pleas for a more rational selection of banned substances and more transitional stages, and rest stages to help the riders recover, here is Jacques Goddet demanding that the riders ride above a set minimum or be penalized.  This logic of increasing the Tour speed would be fully realized until the tempo set by the riders would exceed what could be considered physiologically impossible without dope.  The Tour organizers preferred to turn a blind eye to what was happening because the later Tours of the steroid era featured long breakaways that were reeled in at the last moment by the sprinter teams, with the aid of race radio, well orchestrated by the directeur sportif, who timed these exploits with a stopwatch; very exciting, people were wide awake marveling at these spectacles.  And who can forget the look Lance Armstrong gave Jan Ullrich on L' Alpe d' Huez when Lance Armstrong sprinted up the Dutch Mountain at supersonic speed dropping the hapless German like a hot rock?  People were jumping up and down in an excited frenzy over these exploits with admiring expressions of wonder too.  Oui?  But then again there were people who wondered how every year the average speed of the Tour increased, or how Marco Pantani rode so much faster than Bernard Hinault up L' Alpe d' Huez.  Everyone suspected doping, there were many positive tests during the steroid era from many top riders, but nobody dropped dead on the hairpin turns of L' Alpe d' Huez like Tommy Simpson did on Ventoux.  So what if your blood was a thick as mud, as long as you did not die on the course, nobody cared enough to intervene.

Dope, Dope, Dope.

There are plentiful examples of doping referenced in The Tour is Won on the Alpe.  In 1978 Michel Pollentier won the stage up L' Alpe d' Huez and the yellow jersey, but he tried to fool the doping control by hiding a bladder of clean urine under his armpit and extending a tube down his chest ending behind his penis. The doping doctor on duty caught him because he insisted that Michel Pollentier pull down his pants and lift up his jersey.  Plus the tube seemed to be plugged up with something so Michel Pollentier could not provide any substitute urine anyway.  Michel Pollentier was stripped of his yellow jersey, relegated to the back of the peloton for the stage, penalized ten minutes in the general classification, and fined $5,000 Swiss francs for this fraud. Michel Pollentier claimed that he used an anti-asthmatic drug during the Tour, and he was afraid if found out, of being expelled from the race.  This episode leads to two important lessons.  (1) The need for a therapeutic use exemption for legitimate medical concerns, as was suggested by Eddy Merckx, and eventually implemented by the UCI, and (2) that the penalties for doping evolved from a reasonable and rational level into a draconian, arbitrary, irrational monstrosity.  Relegated to the back of the pack, penalized ten minutes in the general classification, fined, are a far cry from two year suspensions for a first doping offense, four years for a second offense, the death penalty for a third offense, endless litigation, and expense.  These barbaric arbitration "awards" benefit, whom?  Certainly not the athlete.  The UCI should return to the days where an infraction leads to a reasonable punishment.  That way cycling could dispense with the legal circus and dispense with outside actors who have no business passing judgment on anyone.  Of course, repeat offenders were suspended for up to a year, even in 1978.  Nevertheless, the draconian suspensions deter no one, because if that was the case, after the treatment Floyd Landis received, Alberto Contador would have never been stripped of his title for using clenbuterol.  But on the other hand, after the Festina Affair in 1998, Richard Virenque would have never have been allowed to exploit a loophole in the UCI regulations to start the 1999 Tour, in spite of the objections of Jean-Marie LeBlanc.  So where is does the happy medium lie, in hypocrisy, persona non grata?


1989 Tour de France: Greg LeMond Versus Laurent Fignon: L' Alpe d' Huez

There were many great battles on L' Alpe d' Huez, but perhaps none of more important significance that the battle that emerged between Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon during the 1989 Tour de France.  Simply put Greg LeMond started to self destruct on the climb giving Laurent Fignon an opportunity to bury him.

7 kilometers from the top, LeMond, began to falter, his shoulders rocking back and forth.  It was a sign that Cyrille Guimard, Fignon's directeur sportif recognized: LeMond was out of gas.  He threaded his car through the sea of crazed fans and pulled up to Fignon.  "You've got to go, Now!"  Fignon, his face wreathed in sweat, looked over, "I can't do it," he said, "I can't." P.94

Guimard dropped back and waited.  The three (LeMond, Fignon, Delgado) climbed as a group.  And then, at turn 6, just before the hamlet of Huez and only four kilometers (2.4miles) from the summit, Guimard once again pushed his car through the crowds.  "Attack!" LeMond is cooked.  It's now or never!"  Now Fignon made his move, throwing all his aggression and hopes into a painful effort.  He had 53 seconds to make up in order to retake the yellow jersey.  At turn 3, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the finish, he had already taken back 52 seconds. P.95.

Suddenly, wrote Philippe Bouvet in L' Equipe, LeMond sat back down in the saddle.  He reached for his shift lever, he wavered.  The narrow corridor that the fans had yielded was not wide enough; LeMond was all over the place.  For 500 meters, it was terrible: the yellow jersey was drowning in a sea of spectators.  No car or motorcycle could follow him carefully enough to keep the crowd from closing in on him. p.95

Laurent Fignon took over the yellow jersey from LeMond on L' Alpe d' Huez and wore it all the way to Paris, where in the final stage time trial he lost the race by 8 seconds.  LeMond had used aerodynamic tri bars, disc wheels, aerodynamic helmet, while Laurent Fignon used a standard safety bicycle.  Why would Cyrille Guimard allow this discrepancy to happen, aerodynamics verses a standard bicycle?  The reason, according to Jean-Paul Vespini is because Guimard thought that Fignon had squandered his chances on the turns of L' Alpe d' Huez, so Laurent Fignon did not deserve to win the Tour de France!

The Decline of Greg LeMond

Francesco Conconi predicted that the newly emerging Miguel Indurain would dominate the Tour de France in two years during the 1989 Tour de France.  How insightful!  Greg LeMond had a penchant to win the Tour at the last second like Zorro!  But one insight I gleaned from Vespini's book that never occurred to me before is the fact that Greg LeMond resembled Jan Ullrich, the off season slackness, the lack of preparation and work ethic, and the crash course of training to get into Tour de France race shape.  Plus Greg LeMond was always a fragile, psychologically unstable man, who was never sure of himself in the face of stress.  Greg LeMond also never learned that the top of the cycling world is very short lived, the young men are always waiting to depose the old men, like Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon did to Bernard Hinault.  Greg LeMond always complained that his misfortunes limited his number of Tour victories, that he could of outdistanced even Eddy Merckx, without the curse of the witch with green teeth!  But Fignon and Hinault suffered injuries that made them miss Tour de France races in their primes, so Greg LeMond's excuses are superficial at best.  Let us just say that father time caught up with Greg LeMond.  His era, though great, had passed, and it wasn't merely a matter of EPO, but perhaps more importantly a matter of mitochondrial myopathy.  The fact that Greg LeMond was forever bitter about his bad luck, and the fact that he tried to transfer his bitterness into accusatory expedients of others' behavior is inexcusable and shows that Greg LeMond, even though he was a great cyclist, is not a great person to emulate.

I am out of time, more may be added later.

Chow!

  




 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's Not About The Bike: Book Review

It's Not About The Bike, Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins, G.P. Putman's Sons, 2000

Sally Jenkins lists on the cover of the book some amazing attributes of Lance Armstrong: "Winner Tour de France- Cancer Survivor- Husband- Father- Son- Human Being."  If I were to edit the attributes I might mention: Liar, Cheater, Doper, Scoundrel, and Dissimulator of Noxious Poppycock.  But then again somebody would accuse me of being a cynic.

The book is segmented into three parts, a youthful brash Lance Armstrong who was a impulsive athletic sensation feeling his roots and taking incredible risks, the Texas tornado days; the cancer diagnoses and the realization of mortality; and the aftermath, the astounding recovery and sensational athletic success of winning the Tour de France.

There are some themes to the book that resemble Every Second Counts, Lance Armstrong's propensity to launch solo suicide attacks that were usually reeled in.  His brazen, argumentative style that prompted other riders in the peloton to flick him.  The term flick is derived from a German obscenity, and in cycling it equates to tactics used by other riders in tandem to prevent one from winning a race.  Lance Armstrong was warned by other riders: "cool it, you are making enemies," and in cycling races you do favors for friends, so they will do favors for you, when the need arises.  A group of angry riders will flick you at the most critical moment.  Understand?

Then there are the weight claims, the bad cycling technique, the lack of understanding of team tactics, the lack of commitment, the lack of discipline, all excuses contrived to circumvent the rumors that the vast improvement in Lance Armstrong's performance was founded on dope.  Aerodynamics might account for some of the improvement, but how do you explain the fact that during the 1993 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong after winning the Chalons-sur-marne to Verdun stage, abandoned the race during stage 12; in 97th place?  Lance Armstrong claimed that the Alps were "too long and too cold."  What an amazing metamorphoses, the man of clay suddenly emerges as the man of steel, dropping the opposition like flies in sensational climbing attacks during the 1999 Tour de France, to the amazement of everyone, who predicted before the race that Lance Armstrong would never finish the race, let alone win the race.   The French press was shouting that the improvement must be related to the Epogen that Lance Armstrong took during his cancer treatments.  Lance Armstrong attempts to quell these rumors in his book; to disarm the accusations with a crafty bit of reasoning:

"There was an odd commonality in the language of cancer and the language of cycling.  They were both about blood.  In cycling, on way of cheating is to take a drug that boosts your red blood cell count.  In fighting cancer, if my hemoglobin fell below a certain level, the doctors would give me the very same drug Epogen.  There was a baseline of numbers I had to meet in my blood tests, and the doctors measured my blood for the very same thing they measured in cycling: my threshold for physiological stress." P.92.

Thus, if there was any use of Epogen, it was a therapeutic practice necessary to promote good health, not a method to increase athletic performance, and any other reasoning by the French press or anyone else was based upon a bit of loony speculation, not science.

Anyway this argument could be extended indefinitely, but in a certain sense retrospective arguments always have perfect logic.  More Germain to the issue is a specific instance in the book where a certain suspect inherent psychopathic tendency of Lance Armstrong becomes manifest, a bit of trickery, that was aided by other professional teams, where all parties made money.

The Thrift Drug Triple Crown

Thrift Drug offered a million dollar bonus to any rider who could win the 1993 Triple Crown of Cycling: a one day race in Pittsburgh, a six day stage race in West Virgina, and the U.S. Pro Championships, a one day road race covering 156 miles through Philadelphia.

Quoting: Wheelmen, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O'Connell, Gotham Books, 2013

"1)  Lance Armstrong easily won the Pittsburgh race, which he had also won in 1992.
 2)   During the West Virginia race, a 493 mile, six stage race in the hills, Lance Armstrong won the opening Morgantown prologue time trial by just under two seconds.
 3)  The second day of the West Virgina race featured a 100 mile mountain course in the Monongahela National Forest near Elkins.  After Lance Armstrong won again, his lead in the overall standings was 14 seconds, with Michael Engleman of the rival Coors Light team in second place." P.59.

Then a business deal was struck between Lance Armstrong and the Coors Light team.  Quoting: Wheelmen, Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O' Connell, Gotham Books, 2013

"With the $1 million prize on the line, Lance Armstrong then turned to an age old tactic to boost his chance of winning.  He sent a Motorola teammate to approach Scott McKinley, one of the captains of the Coors Light squad, with a business proposition.  Stephen Swart, another Coors team captain, later recalled, under oath during a lawsuit deposition, the following proposition:  Would Michael Engleman and his Coors Light teammates be open to a payoff in exchange for agreeing not to challenge Lance Armstrong in what remained of the Triple Crown?" P.59.

"Stephen Swart a stocky New Zealander, testified that he met Lance Armstrong in a hotel room to discuss it.  In fact, such deals were common in the strange sport of professional cycling, and not seen as entirely unsportsmanlike.  The riders quickly came to an agreement.  Stephen Swart said if the Coors team riders backed off and didn't challenge Lance Armstrong, and if Lance Armstrong won the $1 million, he would pay the Coors team a total of $50,000.  While the payment wasn't a huge amount of money, the Coors riders hadn't won the first leg of the Triple Crown in Pittsburgh, so they weren't in the running for the $1 million anyway.  They all agreed to keep it quiet, Stephen Swart said in his testimony, knowing that if the insurance company found out, it might refuse to pay up." P.59.

"A few months after the race, the Coors Light team was paid in cash for their lack of effort in the races." P.60.

Lance Armstrong recounts his attack up the Manayunk Wall:
"Then with about twenty miles left, I went. I attacked on the most notoriously steep part of the course- Manayunk- all I know is that I leaped out of the saddle and hammered down on the pedals, and as I did so I screamed for a full five seconds.  I opened a huge gap on the field.  By the second to the last lap, I had enough of a lead to blow my mother a kiss.  I crossed the finish line with the biggest winning margin in race history.  I dismounted in a swarm of reporters, but I broke away from them and went straight to my mother, and we put our faces in each other's shoulders and cried." P.61.

Roberto Gaggioli of the Coors Light team claims that Lance Armstrong paid him $100,000 to allow Lance Armstrong to escape on the Manayunk Wall, other teams claimed similar payoffs.

I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the Thrift Drug Triple Crown because it happened during the Motorola period, and serves as a precursor of behavior that would be exhibited by Lance Armstrong after he recovered from cancer.  Like all sociopaths, Lance Armstrong received positive reinforcement from his crime in the form of money and fame.  Lance Armstrong would repeat this antisocial pattern of behavior for seven Tour de France victories: until he was outed by his former teammate Floyd Landis.  Floyd Landis outed Lance Armstrong out of revenge for being flicked by Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel.  Floyd Landis asked Johan Bruyneel for a job on team Radio Shack.  Johan Bruyneel said "no" to Floyd Landis because Lance Armstrong said "no."  It has been speculated that Lance Armstrong was partly responsible for Floyd Landis having difficulties landing a UCI Pro Tour job after he has served his suspension for testing positive during the 2006 Tour de France.  Lance Armstrong forgot the lesson he learned in the early days: don't make enemies.  If Floyd Landis hadn't spoken up, Lance Armstrong's crime spree would have probably continued in the form of paid sponsorship deals forever.

Lance Armstrong also was World Champion before his cancer diagnoses.  Lance Armstrong beat "Big Mig" who had just won his third straight Tour de France, at the World Championships in Oslo, Norway.  I don't think Lance Armstrong strong armed Miguel Indurain for the win.  I think this may have been one of few legitimate wins Lance Armstrong ever produced in a professional race.  Did Lance Armstrong use dope to win?  Did Miguel Indurain use dope?  Does one suspicion cancel out another and does it really matter anymore?

Lack of Health Insurance is a Frightening Proposition

Satisfied?  Recapitulation of past crimes is important, but It's Not About The Bike, is not all about past crimes.  No: the book takes a serious personal turn and is focused with the horror of dealing with a particularly virulent form of cancer that as it metastasized, lowered the probability of survival for the patient, Lance Armstrong.  This portion of the book is very well written, and it brings back old memories of my friend Collin who suffered from stage IV of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  An account of Collin's symptoms and struggles can be found in my review of Every Second Counts.  Lance Armstrong's account of his desire for knowledge about his illness, brings to mind days when I investigated my friend Collin's cancer.  Research studies into specific cancer types are coded with a number, on file with the National Cancer Institute; which can be downloaded on request.  The National Cancer Institute also provides a cancer dictionary, that can be copied and printed on request.  I also downloaded numerous similar research studies that I thought might have been of interest to Collin.  Then there is an association between Lance Armstrong, and my friend Collin when it came to not having insurance.  The hospital informed Lance Armstrong, by letter, that he did not have any health insurance.  Lance Armstrong determined that because he was in transition between team Motorola and Cofidis, his insurance with Motorola had been canceled, and his contract with Cofidis was still pending.  Another major difference between Lance Armstrong and Collin existed;  Lance Armstrong had about $700,000 in liquid assets, Lance Armstrong says he sold his expensive Porsche; but my friend Collin didn't have two nickles to rub together.  Lance Armstrong had a team of people assisting him, my friend Collin was told by the University of Utah bone marrow transplant unit that unless he qualified for Medicaid, he would be refused service.  Now non-Hodgkin lymphoma has an almost 100% fatality rate and the average life expectancy is five years.  But without the bone marrow transplant Collin would have been dead in six months.  Now the obvious question arises: is it worth it to spend $250,000 in hospital expenses to prolong life for five years?  Is it ethical for the medical system to keep syphoning money from a man who has a zero probability of living after five years, from a man who is living in chronic psychological and physical pain?  Lance Armstrong at one time had a twenty percent chance of survival, but he lived, so obviously the time and money was well invested.  But my friend Collin, had no chance of survival, and except for being an experimental biped lab rat, he served no useful purpose except to be congratulated by the University of Utah hospital staff for bringing in a huge amount of money for the hospital.  Imagine people who are admitted to a hospital with a chronic cancer condition who have no insurance and no money.  Should we sentence these people to an early death because they are financially insolvent?  Should hospitals and doctors refuse to treat these people?  Should unemployed people, people who make minimum wage, or homeless people be turned away because they can't pay cash on demand for services?

Because, there a great number of people who think that Medicaid people are garbage who do nothing but suck money out of the system, and if they were faced with a catastrophic medical condition they should do nothing but die.  The state hates these people so much that they will do anything not to expand the Medicaid roles, preferring to watch people die.  But the chronic poor are not the only people who suffer from medical disasters, average middle class people with inadequate medical insurance are getting squeezed too.  The number one financial distress among American families that result in bankruptcy is unexpected medical problems.

The Utah Alternative: Panacea of Folly

But Utah State Governor Gary Herbert has the solution!  It is called the Utah Alternative.  Forget Medicaid expansion with all of those excessive regulations!  Gary Herbert wants a block grant of money without any federal restrictions at all!  The money will not expand the Medicaid roles, God forbid!  No Gary Herbert wants Medicaid to be a temporary measure, if the recipient is upright with a pulse, this person will be deemed "able bodied" and will be required to enroll into a workforce training program.  After successful completion of said program, the graduate, Gary Herbert assures us, will be able to land a "good job."  I don't disapprove of people of being trained and finding good jobs, and contributing to America.  What I object to is the notion that all people who are receiving Medicaid are nothing more than dead beat lazy parasites who would rather live off the government than work.  I fear that a great number of people who are receiving Medicaid are doing so because they are functionally illiterate, of limited physical capacity, mentally ill, or all of the above; and that these people have very few if any marketable skills or work history.  A person who is educated in America for twelve years who has a reading capacity of an eighth grader, or a student who thinks that 2+2=5, are perfect examples of people who are obviously unprepared to enter the workforce in any meaningful capacity.  However, not to worry, as the Gary Herbert training system will rectify this problem with an extensive course of remedial English, and remedial courses in mathematics, that will magically transform the illiterate into a highly educated, highly skilled super producers that any firm would be proud to hire, and promote into positions of even higher responsibility.  Sounds like a boring infomercial.  The idea is a stupid one, there will be money spent on training courses that should be spent in providing people with health insurance, and most of the people who enroll in the training course will lack the mental capacity to complete the course, these people will fail, and failure is equivalent with expulsion from the Medicaid program.  In addition, I will bet you a million dollars to a bucket of warm spit, that people will be required, after completion of the course, to find a job within thirty days, or they will be booted from their Medicaid plans.  Of course, the Utah Alternative has not been implemented yet, and Gary Herbert assures us that this is only a pilot program, and that the public will have an opportunity to comment.  But never fear, the ultimate goal is to forward the plan to the Utah State legislature, a group who cannot resist the urge to be trend setters in national embarrassment. How many times must the oppressed people of the State of Utah shake their heads in amazement at the stupidity of the laws that these people pass every session?  Listen, if you are afflicted with cancer you are not going to care about training and a job, you are going to concerned about your life, and survival, period.  Worrying about liquidating your assents to pay the medical bills should never be a concern for a sick person.  It is time for Gary Herbert and his legions return to sanity, abandon their plan, and expand the Medicaid roles to cover the people who have no health insurance.  Stop playing goofy games.

Oakley Insures Lance Armstrong:

"Next day as [Candide] was taking a walk, he met a beggar, all covered over with sores, his eyes half dead, the tip of his nose eaten off, his mouth turned on one side of his face, his teeth black, speaking through his throat, tormented with a violent cough, with gums so rotten, that his teeth came near falling out every time he spit."
The beggar turned out to be Candide's tutor Dr. Pangloss.  After Dr. Pangloss gives Candide a long lecture on the transmission of the communicable disease small pox, Candide and Dr. Pangloss engage in this memorable discussion:

"'That is admirable,' said Candide; but you must be cured.'  'Ah! how can I?' said Pangloss; 'I have not a penny, my friend; and throughout the whole extent of this globe, we cannot get any one to bleed us, or give us a glister, without paying for it, or getting some other person to pay for us.'"

"This last speech determined Candide, he went and threw himself at the feet of his charitable Anabaptist James, and gave him so touching a description of the state his friend was reduced to, that the good man did not hesitate to entertain Dr. Pangloss, and he had him cured at his own expense."

Voltaire
Candide

Lance Armstrong is one of the lucky people who always seems to find a way out of every difficulty.  Mike Parnell, the Chief Executive Officer of Oakley came to the rescue like a knight in shining armor.  Mike Parnell said he could get Lance Armstrong health insurance through Oakley. 
"But there the health care provider balked; I [Lance Armstrong] had a preexisting condition and therefore they were not obliged to cover my cancer treatments.  Mike Parnell picked up the phone and called the provider, he informed them that if they did not cover my medical treatments, his entire firm would take it's business elsewhere.  'Cover him.'  The provider still balked.  'I don't think you understood what I just said,' Mike said.  They covered me." P.128

Well now, Obamacare has taken care of the preexisting condition problem.  But probably not for long.  There seems to be a number of highly motivated people who think Obamacare the work of Satan; and they are highly motivated to repeal and replace this health care law at any cost, even if millions of Americans are reduced to the previous American health care system of barbarism, unprovided for unless they produce cash on demand for services!  The hospitals will be inundated with uninsured patients, will these people be denied care?  Will the hospitals face bankruptcy, or be forced out of business?  Will insurance rates skyrocket as a side effect to this madness?  Will hospital closures will be discounted as collateral damage; as a necessary evil to maintain free market purity?  This callous disregard for human life, reminds me of the poetic verses of  Edgar Allan Poe:

"The motley drama-oh be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased forevermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth
To the self same spot,
And much in Madness and more of Sin
And Horror the soul of the plot."

Edgar Allan Poe
The Conqueror Worm

But, it be nice if we all had a Mike Parnell who would sign us up under their corporate health care plans when we were in need, instead of casting us under the bus like Gary Herbert wants to do.

Brain Surgery, Mortality, and Philosophical Considerations:

The stress of not facing certain disaster gave Lance Armstrong time to focus on the task at hand, survival.  There were certain indications that the cancer may have spread to his brain.  A magnetic resonance image (MRI) found a number of lesions in Lance Armstrong's brain.  But according to neurosurgeon Dr. Scott Shapiro, the tumors seemed to be located on the surface of the brain, so surgery would be very simple.  But Lance Armstrong was convinced that even a simple mistake could lead to catastrophic results, as some of the tumors were located in the occipital lobe, where are located the neurons that regulate vision.  Call it a paranoia, or an irrational fear, but the night before the brain surgery Lance Armstrong had an existential moment.  He pondered death and made a philosophical resolution:  "I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hard working, and honorable.  If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn't a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that would be enough."  This personal angst by Lance Armstrong is very curious, because it has been said by numerous philosophers that good people do not fear, they welcome death.  People who fear punishment in the after life, [if such a place exists] by some vengeful deity, [if such a person exists] must have some basis for this fear: like engaging in behavior that would be considered contrary to good social norms.  Lance Armstrong's philosophical resolutions were laudable; he was facing mortality, he was uncertain as to whether his perceptual reality would be the same after the surgery as it was before the surgery: would he be blind?  Would his spacial or cognitive world be subjected to some sort of modification?  Facing the prospect of being physically changed, of having your personality modified, to emerge from surgery as a different person with different traits and characteristics, would be terrifying, and these changes might serve as an impetus for sober reflection.  As an aside: I knew a woman named Linda who had reoccurring seizures that required brain surgery.  When I met her, she had had one surgery, and the seizures abated for a while, but they returned, which required a second surgery.  I used to ask her what she was like before her first surgery, she could not exactly define it in words, but she used to say I was different. After the second surgery her personality changed almost one hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction, with a pronounced cognitive decline.  She had almost no recall of her previous personality, when I used to remind her, she had no recollection at all.  Her brother had the same malady, and he was resisting surgery, but the doctor told him that if he waited any longer he was courting death.  I was heartbroken for both of them, it was a tragic case.

But as Lance Armstrong admitted: "Things change, intentions get lost."  Lance Armstrong's newly articulated spiritual reformation vanished like a mirage.  The laudable sentiments were replaced by a sort of cheap cynicism; win at all costs.  Necessity knows no law, and Lance Armstrong had learned from experience that winning in cycling necessarily requires drugs and bribes, cheating, threats and intimidation of other riders, authority figures, or anyone else who stood in his way.  Winning also requires lawsuits: SCA Promotions.  Bribes: of UCI President Hein Verbruggen, to cover up an Epogen positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse.  There was even rumblings that Lance Armstrong made a $1 million donation to the Indiana University Medical Center oncology unit in order to buy the silence of Dr. Craig Nichols when Lance Armstrong was accused by Betsy Andreu of making a hospital room admission to doctors of using performance enhancing drugs during the Motorola days.  The old behaviors learned during the Thrift Drug Triple crown had returned in spades.  The vengeful deity was forgotten, replaced by a vengeful rider who was fixated on annihilating all and sundry.

As it turned out Lance Armstrongs brain tumors turned out to be necrotic.  They were dead.  He had dodged another bullet.

The Horrifying Side Effects of Chemotherapy:

The book next deals with the trauma of the side effects of chemotherapy.

"Doctor Youman explained that the standard treatment protocol for testicular cancer was called BEP, a cocktail of three different drugs, bleomycin, etoposide, cisplatin. The most important ingredient of the three was cisplatin, which is actually platinum, and it's use against testicular cancer had been pioneered by a man named Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, who practiced at the Indinana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.  Prior to Einhorn's discovery, testicular cancer was almost always fatal." P.86

The chemo drugs were so toxic that nurses handled them with ebola tested level three biohazard gloves.  The side effects of the chemo treatments is riveting reading, with every increase in the level of the treatment protocol the suffering intensified.  Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it also kills healthy normal cells, the problem is that the therapeutic dose is almost identical to the lethal dose. Dr. Craig Nichols told Lance Armstrong, "I assure you that I can kill you."  The secret is to configure a schedule that does not kill the patient, because the side effects to the lungs, will kill you!  This is a reminder to people: if your prescription says take two, take two, not three, or four, or you may die on the emergency room table, if you make it that far!  Lance Armstrong suffered for hours, balled up like a fetus, he could not eat, he could not drink, he could not read the newspaper or watch television.  A worse torture could not be devised by man than advanced chemo therapy.  Lance Armstrong developed a caregiver-patient relationship with La Trice Haney; that became almost spiritual.  This interdependency among patient and caregiver is common; my friend Collin showed me a photograph of himself standing with two nurses of the bone marrow transplant unit; smiling together, at a five year cancer survivor picnic.  Collin always had the highest praise for these women.  Finally, one day La Trice told Lance Armstrong, "When you are cured I never want to see you again.  I want you to wonder, did I dream her?"  Powerful stuff.

The End of Cofidis:

Unfortunately, during these dark days of suffering business reared it's ugly head in the form of an unexpected visit by Alain Bondue, a representative of Cofidis, where Lance Armstrong had a pending two year contract worth $2.5 million.

Alain Bondue had a conversation with Lance Armstrong's business agent Bill Stapleton where Bill Sherwin served as interpreter:

"Alain Bondue pointed out that my contract had a clause stating I was required to pass a medical examination.  Obviously, I was in no condition to do that.  Therefore, Cofidis had the right to cancel the contract.  They were offering to renegotiate, which they felt was generous under the circumstances.  They wanted to honor part of it, but not all.  If I didn't accept the new terms they offered, they would force me to undergo a medical scan, and terminate the contract in it's entirety." P.142.

Alain Bondue would be a good staff member for the Utah Alternative, he is certainly ruthless and cold blooded enough!

In the end, after Lance Armstrong was released from the hospital with his cancer in remission, Cofidis chief executive officer Fancois Migraine told Bill Stapleton:  "We want you to know that we're going to exercise our right to terminate Lance Armstrong's contract."  Cofidis was worried that Lance Armstrong would never reach his previous riding level and that he would get sick again.

But Cofidis did make Lance Armstrong and Bill Stapleton an offer:  "Cofidis called and offered Lance Armstrong $180,000, with an incentive to pay more if he earned UCI bonus points based on performance in various races.  The base salary was the equivalent of a league minimum."  According to David Millar this was a standard practice at Cofidis at the time, incentives based on UCI points, and the practice was roundly criticised in cycling as an incentive to dope.

U.S. Postal Service: Paris-Nice: An Existential Crises: The End of Professional Cycling For Lance Armstrong?

But Lance Armstrong was finished with Cofidis.  Bill Stapleton wanted a better deal than the $180,000 minimum Cofidis was offering.  Bill Stapleton finally reached an agreement with Thomas Weisel, the mastermind behind the U. S. Postal Service Team, who offered Lance Armstrong considerably more money and even an incentive based upon UCI points.

But Lance Armstrong was going through an existential crises again.  Worried that his cancer would return after remission, and guaranteed a disability payment from  Lloyds of London, Lance Armstrong wondered if he wanted to face the cold, the cheap European hotels, the rotten food, the injuries, and the stress of professional cycling.  Then in the 1998 Paris-Nice race the crises reached a crescendo:  After finishing in 19th place in the prologue and feeling confident in himself, Lance Armstrong collapsed on Stage 1.  George Hincapie had been designated as team leader, and Lance Armstrong and the team were riding as domestiques.  George Hincapie flats:

"We all stopped.  The peloton sped up the road away from us.  By the time we got going again, we were twenty minutes behind the leaders, and in the wind it would take an hour of brutal effort for us to make up what we had lost.  We rode off, heads down in the rain." P.190.

Then the supreme moment of failure for every professional rider occurred, the lack of will to continue:

"The crosswind cut through my clothes and made it hard to steady the bike as I churned along the side of the road.  All of a sudden, I lifted my hands to the top of the handlebars.  I straightened up in my seat, and I coasted to the curb.  I pulled over, I quit.  I abandoned the race.  I took off my number.  I thought, this is not how I want to spend my life, freezing and soaked and in the gutter." P.190; italics original text.

Lance Armstrong skipped the 1998 Tour de France; but he did do some color commentary for the 1998 Tour.  The 1998 Tour de France as we all remember was a disaster after Festina Watch  soigneur Willy Voet; was caught at a French frontier post with a pharmacy of performance enhancing drugs concealed in a wheel boot.  The reaction by ASO and the French police was nuclear.  The police conducted unannounced midnight raids on team hotels looking for contraband.  The riders and teams protested what they considered inhumane treatment; the riders laid their bikes down in the course refusing to ride.  Further police raids were initiated; teams exited the race en masse.  Lance Armstrong made the following comment:

"Doping is an unfortunate fact of life in cycling, or any other endurance sport for that matter.  Inevitably, some teams and riders it's like nuclear weapons, that they have to do it to stay competitive within the peloton.  I never felt that way, and certainly after chemo the idea of putting anything foreign in my body was especially repulsive." P.205

This from a man who used Epogen and other performance enhancing drugs to win the 1999 Tour de France!

Even more astounding, in context of his existential crises, his laying around the house all day until Kristen had her own near nuclear meltdown, is the fact that Lance Armstrong finished fourth in the 1998 Vuelta a Espana:

"To place fourth in the Vuelta meant more than just a comeback.  In my previous life, I'd been a great one day racer, but I'd never been competitive in a three week stage race.  The Vuelta meant I was not only back, I was better.  I was capable of winning any race in the world.  I swept up UCI ranking points right and left, and all of a sudden I was the real deal." P.206.

Whew!  A hint!  Lance Armstrong had become magically transformed from a one day racer into a Grand Tour winner.  This magical transformation was one of the most mystical, puzzling, and debated improvements in cycling history.  The man who abandoned the 1993 Tour de France, on the 12th stage, in 97th place, because the "Alps were too long and too cold," was suddenly placing fourth in the 1998 Vuelta a Espana, shortly after withdrawing from Paris-Nice, ready to quit professional racing forever.  This was not a comeback, it was a metamorphoses.  The phoenix had arisen from the ashes, not as a winner of classics, but as an eventual winner of seven straight Tours de France in a row, a feat that had never been accomplished even by the legendary Eddy Merckx.  Even Lance Armstrong's early sensational improvement was of such mind blowing proportions that fans and the press began to question it's origins.

In Vitro Fertilization: The Plight of Kristen Armstrong:

The book next transitions into the trials and tribulations of Kristen Armstrong and her in-vitro fertilization, a riveting chapter of the first quality that any couple facing extinction should avidly read.  I am amazed about the amount of pain and discomfort that a woman has to endure to produce a child; a man contributes nothing; he has a pleasurable experience; but a woman!  A warrior of the finest quality.  I have spoken to women who look so young, who promptly inform me that they have four children!  When I ask about the discomfort that they may have experienced in confinement, they smile at me like I am a child who should be excused for his stupidity!  Kristen Armstrong even had a breech baby; and that is one of the most difficult deliveries imaginable, and before cesarean section killed many a woman.  So kudos to the ladies!

1999 Tour de France:

Misfortune claims some riders at the beginning of the Tour de France, they get caught up behind crashes and are never able to make up the time.  This was what happened to Alex Zulle and Michael Boogerd, who were both favored to finish high in the general classification or even win the 1998 Tour de France.  Lance Armstrong describes the situation:

"In the second stage, we came to a four kilometer causeway called the Passage du Gois, a scene of almost surreal strangeness.  The passage is a long, narrow, blacktop road across a tidal marsh, but the brackish water floods at high tide, covering the road and making it impassable.  Even when the road is passable, it's slick and treacherous, and the edges are covered with barnacles and seaweed." P.233
Alex Zulle crashed behind a goup of riders and had to wait until the carnage was sorted out so he could continue.  Alex Zulle lost over six minutes on the stage because Lance Armstrong and his team attacked; and Alex Zulle complained that he could do nothing because he was "stuck in the middle of the Atlantic ocean!"  If you subtract this incident; Alex Zulle, until the Sastriere climb would have been only a minute behind Lance Armstrong.  Of all the nasty things Lance Armstrong did on a bike, and the attack on Iban Mayo on the cobblestones would rank a close second, this ranks as the most villainous, unsportsmanlike, unfair attacks, and it is unforgivable!

Sestriere Climb:

This is the point where Lance Armstrong's newly found climbing skill began to raise questions.  Lance Armstrong was in a group of riders that were nearly thirty seconds behind a group of leading riders on the course.  But suddenly Lance Armstrong attacked his group, caught the group in front, and accelerated, dropping the leading group in the process. Looking at the film is better than a thousand words, and this performance looks too good to be real.  Lance Armstrong called his effort "effortless."  But the French press weren't buying it.  L'Euipe and Le Monde ran articles declaring that Lance Armstrong must be "taking something."  There was an additional problem, Lance Armstrong was accused of testing positive for a corticosteroid, that Lance Armstrong claimed was listed on a therapeutic use exemption form filed with the UCI before the depart.  Of course, it is now known that the UCI accepted a backdated prescription, and that Hein Verbruggen knew about the whole thing and allowed it to happen.

The End.

What the hell they even put Lance Armstrong on a Wheaties box.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

23 Days in July: Book Review

23 Days in July, John Wilcockson, Da Capo Press, 2004.

The 2004 Tour de France was advertised as a defining moment in the history of cycling.  Never before had a rider passed the mythical five Tour de France win threshold, not Eddy Merckx, not Jacques Anquetil, not Miguel Indurain, not Bernard Hinault.  There existed with the sport of cycling, a fatalistic superstition that some destiny would intervene to prevent the riders from reaching the magic number six.

Lance Armstrong entered the five time Tour de France champion club after barely surviving the epic 2003 Tour de France, which was in question until Jan Ullrich plunged out of control on a rain and oil soaked turn in the final individual time trial.  In the 2003 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong almost ended his chances when Joseba Beloki crashed on a Pyrenees descent; and Lance Armstrong had to detour across a plowed field expecting every moment to blow one of his tubeless Hutchinson tires.  Then there was the child with the souvenir musette bag who hooked Lance Armstrong's bullhorns and dumped him and Iban Mayo on the ground, breaking one of Lance Armstrong's chain stays in the process.  Then a few seconds later one of Lance Armstrong's toe clips slipped out of the pedals, nearly doing severe damage to his groin area.  Then, of course, there was the mediation by Tyler Hamilton who enforced the rule that when the maillot jaune has an accident you don't attack; a lesson Alberto Contador should have learned before he tested positive for clenbuterol.  Nevertheless, if Jan Ullrich had continued to ride he would have won the race, and the 2004 Tour de France would have been nothing but a footnote.

As it was the 2004 Tour de France turned out to be one the least suspenseful in history.  Lance Armstrong won four mountain stages in a row; including the L'AlpeD'Huez time trial; a feat that had never been accomplished in Tour de France history.  Several race favorites foundered; Tyler Hamilton after a crash that injured his back, bonked on a climb; his favorite dog Tugboat died during the race and Tyler Hamilton was despondent over the death of his best friend.  Later during the race iron man Tyler Hamilton; the man who rode through an entire 2002 Giro d' Italia and 2003 Tour de France with broken bones; a man who placed high in the classification in both grand tours; could not continue in 2004.  Why?  I suspect that he received a tainted blood sample that was intended for another rider.  Iban Mayo, a great Basque climber, who was caught behind a crash on the cobblestone course, who in spite of his heroic Euskai-Euskatel teammates, who tried to pace him back to the peloton lost time, while a smiling Lance Armstrong lead the pack hammering away.  Later in the race,  during a mountain stage in the Pyrenees, fifty thousand rabid Basque fanatics lined the course while waiting for their hero Iban Mayo, greeted Lance Armstrong with catcalls and upraised fingers for his cobblestone antics.  Iban Mayo hopelessly behind and exhausted quit the race shortly thereafter.  Roberto Heras, (Liberty Seguros) who had a string of successes in the Vuelta a Espana also quit saying that there was "no point in continuing."  Gilberto Simoni, (Saeco), a great climber and two time winner of the Giro d' Italia, did not abandon, but he did complain that Lance Armstrong was hogging all of the mountain stage wins; stages where Gilberto Simoni lead long breakaways.  Gilberto Simoni when asked if Lance Armstrong was the new "cannibal" responded Armstrong is not a "cannibal" he is a piranha!  Jan Ullrich, (Telekom) lost time in the Pyrenees, he was at a loss to understand his performance, promising to do better in the Alps.  Andreas Kloden, (Telekom) was better placed in the general classification that his team leader Jan Ullrich.  Ivan Basso, (CSC) in spite of the "gift" mountain stage win could not keep pace with Lance Armstrong losing time on every stage.  Floyd Landis surprised everyone by setting an inhuman pace, and he would have won the stage if not for the obstinacy of Jan Ullrich.  After Jan Ullrich chased down Floyd Landis he even tried to barter a deal for help to drop Ivan Basso; an offer which the Posties refused point blank.  Of course, in a superhuman sprint Lance Armstrong won the stage, nipping Andreas Kloden at the line because Lance Armstrong was angry because T-Mobile would not let Floyd Landis go. 

But John Wilcockson does his best to keep us entertained, even if the 2004 Tour de France put us to sleep.  John Wilcockson does mix up some old historical tales of roadside fanatics who were around when Le Tour went by eons ago.  My favorite story was of Charly Gaul who slid to a stop at the city fountain to cool down by plunging his head into the water and filling up his water bottles.  The proprietor of the local sports bar claims that he pushed Charly Gaul back onto the course, to the admiration of his patrons.  This proprietor produced photographs to prove, not that he pushed Charly Gaul back onto the course, but that Charly Gaul had actually stopped at the fountain.  John Wilcockson says that after this unscheduled pit stop Charly Gaul rode with Louison Bobet, conceding twenty minutes and a probable Tour de France win to legendary Spanish climber Federico Bahamontes.  Charly Gaul was known as the "Angel of the Mountains" and in cold weather he was unbeatable.  In the 1956 Giro d' Italia, there was a snowstorm on the Monte Bondone stage that was so severe that the Italian Army was mobilized, armed with snow shovels to clear a path for the riders.  Charly Gaul arrived almost an hour ahead of the pack, and begged the Italian soldiers in French to push him up the pass.  The soldiers refused to help Charly Gaul, but they did help push the Italian riders up the pass; nevertheless: Charly Gaul won the stage by eight minutes over his Italian rival Alessandro Fantini, and the entire 1956 Giro d' Italia in the process.  Charly Gaul's Achilles heel seemed to be the heat, where his performance declined to average among the great climbers of his day, thus would probably explain the unexpected visit to the fountain.

There is some mention of dope, too, in 23 Days in July.  David Walsh, L.A. Confidential, Michele Ferrari, EPO, the horse that has been beaten into submission.  There is one gem gleaned out of the muck, however, a statement made by Shelley Verses.  John Wilcockson asked Shelley Verses, former soigneur of La Vie Claire to respond to statements made by Emma O' Reilly in L. A. Confidential that she purchased drugs for Lance Armstrong and the United States Postal Service Professional Cycling Team, disposed of syringes, applied cosmetics to hide bruises, etc.  Shelley Verses stated:

 "It's a part of a soigneur's job to dispose of syringes.  And I used to drive all over the Continent getting drugs, legal drugs.  And I often lent guys makeup to hide bruises.  Riders are so vascular because they have no body fat, and they bruise easily." P. 143.

This is the first statement I have ever heard of that could possibly implicate Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond, and La Vie Claire of using supplements, or possibly performance enhancing drugs, during the 1985 and 1986 Tours de France.  First, Shelley Verses is not a doctor so her assurance that the drugs she did purchase were legal is mere conjecture.  Second, drugs that were legal in 1986, may have been added to the prohibited list, so we may assert that legal does not preclude the fact that the legal drugs that she purchased in 1986, did not have performance enhancing qualities.  Nevertheless, this admission by Shelley Verses directly contradicts the Greg LeMond myth that professional cycling was not in search of a magic pill that would aid in their performance in 1985 or 1986.  Shelley Verses could be considered the first La Vie Claire "whistle blower" if she would come forward and offer testimony of malfeasance; perhaps she should contact USADA!

There was one other piece of rubbish.  Lance Armstrong mentioned his debacle during the 2003 Time Trial where he was beaten soundly by Jan Ullirch as being caused by "chronic dehydration."  Lance Armstrong tries to tell us that he had been suffering from "chronic dehydration" since he received platinum therapy in fighting cancer in 1996.  Lance Armstrong then assures us that drinking water filled his bladder without saturating his cells.  This is complete and utter nonsense and I can't believe that John Wilcockson published such nonsense.  Even stranger is the explanation by Chris Carmichael who claims that the dehydration originated in the 2003 Dauphine Libere, where Lance Armstrong pushed himself to the limit trying to outpace Iban Mayo.  I remember Lance Armstrong hanging on to the medical car, having his elbow patched up by the race doctor during the Dauphine Libere, not because of dehydration, but because he hit a sewer lid, because he had some break malfunction in his new Trek Madone bicycle!  Never was there a word about the "chronically dehydrated" Lance Armstrong during the Dauphine Libere or even the 2003 Tour de France until the mysterious partial bonk during the time trial where Lance Armstrong assures us that he was "riding in squares."  I mean, like, whatever dude!

Anyway, if you are a hardcore Lance Armstrong fanatic this book certainly would not be amiss in your library as a curiosity, since the impact of the mythical six never existed in reality; and has yet to be attained by anyone.  We have the old five timer club, and Lance Armstrong is not among them.  John Wilcockson has written a very good account of a very boring Tour de France, that occurred during a very drug saturated era where the best drugs win, not the best athletes.  23 Days in July would have been regarded as a first class work of reporting in 2004, when the Lance Armstrong mania was still in full force.  It still could be considered a first class reference book; not the parts that examine the personality of the riders; except in a study of abnormal personality traits; or in a study of dissimulation; but the technical discussions of the race tactics still have pertinence.  The book would also be a good companion to the old 2004 Tour de France films.  23 Days in July is a good book even if the contents are dated and without much relevance, or of much interest anymore.  A museum piece fit for mothballs.  But these facts do not detract from John Wilcockson's writing ability or his competence in cycling reporting which is first rate.