Cycling's Biggest Dopes
A reader's guide to the new Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis books.
Shortly after Lance Armstrong began winning Tours de France, I asked one of his close advisers what, exactly, had changed. How had an inconsistent star morphed into a rider who could dominate the three-week Tour from beginning to end? "He's improved his aerobic system," this person said, as if none of his competitors had ever thought to do that (by, say, training).
David Walsh is pretty sure he knows how Lance "improved his aerobic system." His magnum opus, From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France,is at once fascinating, disturbing, and problematic. This is Walsh's third joust at Armstrong, but the first to be published in English. Even after discounting Walsh's obvious bias and sometimes weak sourcing (think Kitty Kelley meets Michael Moore), his evidence is disturbing. There's no smoking gun—nobody stepping forward to say, yes, they saw Armstrong inject himself—but there is an awful lot of smoke.
Floyd Landis' new tome, which has the unfortunate title Positively False, suffers from the opposite problem. The book is stilted and almost lifeless—very much unlike its author, who's very funny in person, as one might expect from a lapsed Mennonite whose favorite author is Jack Handey. Landis' denials are feisty but less than fully convincing, though he makes some good points about the absurd rigidity of drug-control rules and the prejudicial and often clownish antics of Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Neither book fully makes its case, and only a true obsessive would read both. But each contains juicy nuggets of gossip, creepy revelations, and a few puzzling contradictions. Here are some highlights:
Positively False,Page 195
It takes Landis well over 100 pages to broach the subject of drug use in cycling. Then, despite massive and continuing evidence to the contrary, he minimizes the effect of doping. "I can't recall the first time I figured out what doping even was," Landis writes. "Hanging out after races or in a hotel where teams were staying, I'd overhear, 'Oh, he's on EPO,' or 'It's the testosterone.' ... Because of all the talk, I knew it must happen, but, as unbelievable as it may sound, I don't actually know how many cyclists are doping. Why would I?"
From Lance to Landis, Page 37
In Walsh's view, cycling is a sport with a deeply ingrained, almost inescapable drug culture. "In the 1980s, amphetamines, testosterone, and corticosteroids were widely abused by cyclists. ... Though it was treason to speak publicly about the doping culture, drugs were part of cyclists' lives. ... At all but the biggest races, drug testing was lax and teams were told in advance at which events their riders would be tested. ... And, relatively speaking, those were the good days."
The Shady Italian Doctor
From Lance to Landis, Page 174
In early 2001, Walsh discovered what he believed was Armstrong's secret weapon. The Tour champion had been training with Dr. Michele Ferrari, a trainer considered one of the pioneers of blood doping and EPO use. Working with Ferrari was not something a smart rider bragged about. In a hastily arranged interview with Walsh, Armstrong was cagey about their association: "Have I been tested by him, gone and been there and consulted on certain things? Perhaps." In fact, Armstrong had been seeing Ferrari regularly since 1995. This arrangement was so secretive that some of his own teammates didn't even know about it.
Positively False,Page 57
"In the six weeks before the  Tour, I went with Lance to St. Moritz, Switzerland, to train at high altitude and scope out some of the Alps mountain stages of the Tour," Landis writes. "What I learned was that, when it came to desire and work ethic, Lance and I are a lot alike. We set a goal and then we do absolutely whatever it takes to figure out how to achieve it." Landis even brags that "Lance's training adviser" was pleased with his progress. He leaves out the adviser's name: Dr. Michele Ferrari.
Don't Mess With Greg LeMond
From Lance to Landis, Page 188
As the only other American to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond had been an early supporter of Armstrong. But after Armstrong's relationship with Ferrari became public, in 2001, LeMond turned critical. If Lance was really clean, he opined to a journalist, "it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If not, it is the greatest fraud." Soon afterward, LeMond's phone rang with an unhappy Armstrong on the other end, leveling his own accusations.
Armstrong: Oh, come on now. You're telling me you never did EPO?
LeMond: Why would you say I did EPO?
Armstrong: Come on, everyone's done EPO.
LeMond: Why do you think I did it?
Armstrong: Well, your comeback in '89 [from a hunting accident] was so spectacular. Mine was a miracle, yours was a miracle. You couldn't have been as strong as you were in '89 without taking EPO.
LeMond: Are you threatening me?
Armstrong: If you want to throw stones, I will throw stones. ...I could find ten people who will say you did EPO. Ten people who would come forward.
Armstrong's threat proved limp, and LeMond would become a key source for Walsh.
Positively False, Page 302
After Landis tested positive during the 2006 Tour, he phoned LeMond for advice. In an attempt to persuade Landis to "come clean," the former cycling champ confided that he'd been sexually abused as a child. Landis demurred, and the conversation turned LeMond into a witness for the prosecution. The night before LeMond was to testify at Landis' May arbitration hearing, Landis' manager drunkenly crank-called LeMond, threatening to expose the abuse. The ploy backfired: Landis had to fire his manager, and the episode discredited him in the middle of his trial.