by Reed Albergotti & Vanessa O’Connell
The name ‘Wheelmen’ refers to the name of a well known cycling group that was founded in the late 1800’s but the term has since become synonymous with the word ‘cyclists’. This book, titled Wheelmen, was written by two Wall Street Journal reporters who not only covered the story of Lance Armstrong from 2010 to 2013, they were actually responsible for uncovering some of the details that led to his dramatic downfall.
The book begins with the story of Lance’s childhood and how he had already reached the international level as a triathlete while still in his teens. The authors then go into detail about the world of cycling at that point in time and the history behind the people who eventually played a big role in Lance’s transformation from triathlete to cyclist and his ascent to the top of the sport. This background is crucial in understanding the complex relationships between Lance and people like Greg LeMond, Johan Bruyneel, Floyd Landis and Dr. Michele Ferrari. This background also helps you understand more about how and why so many riders like Lance got involved with act of taking performance-enhancing drugs in the first place.
The thing that really surprised me about this whole story was how entrenched doping was in the sport. Everyone was involved. Team owners, coaches, doctors, assistants, bike mechanics, bus drivers, everyone. It is crazy to think that all of these people were actually able to keep this secret hidden for so many years. In some case, decades.
The latter part of the book is already pretty familiar to most people since it had become the biggest story in the news by that point. Although, it is interesting to read about the steps that led to the secrets finally being revealed and the strategies employed by the various parties involved in the whole mess.
The story about the downfall of a hero is, of course, a sad one. However, the thing that I think is even more depressing about this and other stories like it is how pervasive doping has become in sports. Even at the amateur level. An anonymous poll at recent triathlon revealed that 1 in 7 of the amateur participants admitted to taking illegal, performance-enhancing substances. The reality is that it is simply impossible to compete at the elite level without it.