Start Reading “Lance Armstrong’s War”

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My wife Kathleen was laughing at me this morning when I told her that I was about to finish the new book Lance Armstrong’s War by Daniel Coyle, a contributing editor for Outside Magazine.

Kathleen said, “Wow, you finished a long book! This is going to open new horizons for you,” as if I’d never read a book that didn’t come out of the junior reader section of the public library before. Since she reads as regularly as I eat, she has earned a certain right to chide me.

Lance Armstrong’s War provides a lot of details about the successful attempt to win the 2004 Tour de France that even the most interested outsider couldn’t have known. If you watched The Lance Chronicles on the Outdoor Life Network last year, you probably came away from that show with a few unanswered questions– I know I did. This book fills in a lot of those details.

It also tells some of the inside story of the 2004 Tour de France, including the public relations threat posed by the book L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong and the death threat against Armstrong that was made before the Alpe d’Huez Time Trial. I agreed with Lance’s comments after that time trial that the time trial to Alpe d’Huez was too dangerous, but he didn’t say and we didn’t know that a threat had been made against his life at the time.

The book also discusses the degree to which Dr. Michele Ferrari was involved in Lance’s 2004 Tour preparation. This will probably be a revelation for many American fans who have been given the impression that Ferrari played a small role relative to that of Chris Carmichael. Coyle explained that Ferrari was present for some of key parts of Lance’s training in Europe and in other parts of the world last year. There’s no doubt that both Carmichael and Ferrari played important roles in Lance’s training.

There are a ton of small insights in this book that I haven’t seen in any other place. For instance, many of the leading riders in the pro peleton were advised in the 2004 season by either Dr. Ferrari or Luigi Cecchini. It seems that riders align themselves with these advisors based partly on their abilities to help them reach training goals and partly because of their relationship or lack of relationship with a teammate or rival.

I also had not realized the degree to which Watts per kilogram of body weight was considered a benchmark of success in professional cycling. We often read about the statistics VO2max and lactate threshold as being important indicators of fitness and they certainly are, but they are apparently not the supreme indicators of pro cycling race potential.

Operation Gadget has talked about fitness gadgets like Polar Heart Rate Monitors and the Lactate Pro electronic lactate threshold meter, but we haven’t discussed devices like the CycleOps PowerTap power meter as much. I saw Floyd Landis using a PowerTap at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, but many fewer riders use tools like PowerTaps due to the expense associated: $1,200 to 1,300 for the electronics alone.

Lance Armstrong’s War provides more insight into how Armstrong thinks about threats to his goals and weapons in his arsenal. The attitude that he has developed over the years pervades his relationships and defines the organizations that he has put together. There are reasons that everyone in Armstrong’s inner circle uses a Blackberry, and you’ll learn some of them by reading this book. One of the key insights into how the team motivates itself is that Armstrong’s perception of the advantage gained by his use of technology is more important than the actual advantage. This helps explain some of the enthusiasm that the Discovery Channel team had for their AMD-powered personal media players which were demonstrated to me at the Tour de Georgia.

There’s also more focus on Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France rivals than I would have expected from reading about this book. It’s primarily about Lance Armstrong, his advisors, and his teammates, but there are very detailed discussions of Tyler Hamilton’s 2004 season and his perceptions of what took place, as well as Iban Mayo’s many problems during the race and Floyd Landis’ decision to leave the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team after the 2004 Tour.

I think I could go on about Lance Armstrong’s War and reveal all of the interesting information that it contains. Instead I’ll say that I thoroughly enjoyed and wholeheartedly recommend the book. I think it’s very balanced and doesn’t shy away from discussing issues that are of continuing concern within Lance’s inner circle.

Whether you are a big fan of Armstrong or not, you will find information in the book that you will appreciate. It’s written in a style that makes it a brisk read. Everytime I picked it up, I read at least one chapter. I’ve been recommending it to friends who follow cycling before I even started reading it, and my recommendation is even stronger now that I’ve finished it.

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