I was certainly trying to capitalize on Lance Armstrong’s popularity when I pitched a book idea on the Tour de France to major publishers in the early aughts. I wanted to do a guide that explained le grande boucle to people who were interested in but not passionate about the event. At the same time, I had no desire in furthering the cult of Lance. I was just trying to write a book about an event I have been captivated by, and I was hoping that both a publisher and the public would be interested in the book because of Armstrong. He got their attention and I wanted to take advantage of the audience and tell a yarn that would open their eyes to what I saw as a sporting event beyond compare, not just a bunch of skinny guys riding around France to get dominated by Armstrong.
The way I pitched the book was by recounting the climb of Luz-Ardiden during the 2003 Tour, and that intro was developed to become the introduction to the book, which became Tour Fever.
Eventually, the Perigee imprint of Penguin offered me an advance, and I started working on the book in the spring of 2005, with Armstrong. The book came out in 2006, the release timed so my work could be promoted in advance of the 2006 Tour. A must-read, something to keep by the television as people struggled to make sense of what they were watching.
If I was to explain the race, I felt it important that I address doping in cycling. And better than the rote dismissals that commentators like Phil Liggett used to give about the ‘tests being so strict;’ I didn’t believe them and I didn’t think anyone should, or could, believe them, either. In chapter four, entitled, “The Racer,” I devote three pages to doping in a section entitled “Drugs.” I still don’t know if I did enough in this section, at the time I thought I did. I closed the section by discussing Armstrong.
“Lance Armstrong is the rare cyclist who can admit to using a performance-enhancing drug out of competition. It should be noted that Armstrong claims to have given money to UCI to increase drug testing. The drug EPO is a blood-thickening agent used to help cancer victims survive chemotherapy, which is how Armstrong got it and used it when survival was his main concern. It’s also a banned performance-enhancing drug, blamed for the death of several cyclists. When Armstrong returned to top form and rode better than ever, there were whispers of drug use. The price for being the most famous cyclist in the world is a bulls-eye on the back, and skeptics and naysayers naturally pored over every aspect of Armstrong’s life. Nothing has been proven though there have been allegations by former teammates, employees, and associates. In the fall of 2005, there were stories that Armstrong’s blood samples saved from the 1999 Tour tested positive with a new drug test. Since the test in question didn’t follow proper protocol, the result is inadmissible. Since it is inadmissible, Armstrong can neither be penalized, nor can he claim damage. In the respect, the result is neither a positive nor a negative test.”
I tried to be as careful as possible, as I wanted to only address what was proven. I knew lots of suspicions, many I believed likely true, but highly-informed suspicions weren’t enough. Looking back, I wish I had mentioned the positive test for cortisone in 1999 and the backdated prescription. I don’t believe I saw the SCA testimony (given in 2005-6) until after I had turned in the final pages. Also, looking back, I think it safe to write that the 2003 Tour was the most exciting race of the Armstrong era thanks to the fact that the competition had finally gotten on doping programs the erased much of Armstrong’s doping edge, though this wasn’t proven, there were only hints, at the time.
The publisher selected a photo of Armstrong in the peloton wearing yellow on the Champs-Élysées for the cover. Wasn’t crazy about it, as I would have preferred some shot of deranged, sunburned fans foaming at the mouth as inches away riders agonize up a steep mountain pass, but I understood the publisher wanted to make selling the book as easy as possible.
The publisher, through the publicist, allegedly sent an advance copy to Armstrong’s people. Never heard back. Wonder if they read it. Don’t know if the publicist had read the book, for that matter. Two editors of prominent cycling mags, publications I had written for, told me they were going to do reviews. They didn’t. Almost no cycling publication reviewed the book.
Funny thing is, the book rode the waves of doping and the Tour. I had done an interview that was slated to appear on GQ.com and it was pulled when the Operacion Puerto scandal broke on the eve of the Tour. That was a bummer. Then CBS evening news called me to come in to wax expert on Floyd Landis’ ride to Morzine that effectively won him the race. Don’t remember what I said there, but it was a few minutes of national attention. Seemed to boost sales a little. But the boost seemed short-lived.