Cycle of Lies is New York Times reporter Juliet Macur’s addition to the long line of biographies about
seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. It represents, for Macur, the culmination of many years of reporting on the Texan. Jono Lovelock read the book and put together this review.
“Tell him to f**k off. I’m not signing anything. I’m not f**king protecting him.” – Betsy Andreu
For those that haven’t waded into every article, document, or book on Armstrong’s rise and fall, Cycle of Lies is the ultimate catalogue of the affair. It’s not shockingly revealing like Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’, but it pieces together rather succinctly what can be a dizzying topic when approached on an article-by-article level.
For the educated fan, on the other hand, not much of this is new, but it is re-packaged with a sufficient number of fresh allegations to keep your interest piqued.
Reading Cycle of Lies is analogous to re-watching a favourite movie or TV series; even when you know the ending you still get enjoyment from the journey, often picking up bits of information you might have missed before. Even for those that have read every page of USADA’s Reasoned Decision, Cycle of Lies offers a worthy read. And it is quotes like the one above from Betsy Andreu that have readers punching the air with satisfaction, knowing that those who told the truth all along were ultimately vindicated.
The Definitive Inside Story?
In HBO’s TV series ‘The Wire’, Lester Freamon coined a phrase that is relevant for any number of drug scandals — be it sporting or otherwise — and in the Armstrong narrative it is particularly apt: “You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don’t know where the f**k it’s gonna take you.”
For a large part, Cycle of Lies takes fans down a commonly treaded path; the ‘he said she said’ bickering between professional cyclists. A sharper look at the commercial aspects surrounding Armstrong feels warranted.
In 2012, Twitter user dimspace created a telling flow chart that illustrated the incestuous nature of the sporting world that was complicit in, and benefited heavily from Armstrong’s success. Cycle of Lies treads this path carefully, understandably so, but Macur seems to be satisfied that the big Tex went down, without stressing the importance of those around Armstrong facing the same consequences.
Macur has voiced her own opinion on the bans of Johan Bruyneel and Armstrong’s medical team in her New York Times column (given these events came well after publishing), but the money remains un-followed. Similarly, the acceptance at face value of the testimony in USADA’s Reasoned Decision from Armstrong’s ex-teammates — that they all stopped doping en masse during the mid-2000s — seems naïve given the subject matter of the book. Overall, a greater scrutiny into these two aspects is necessary given the book’s self-proclaimed title as “the definitive inside story.”
Uncovering JT Neal
The previous criticism, however, is not to say that the work done by Macur is not comprehensive; these are but small gripes in what is great reporting for the most part. This great reporting is highlighted in the uncovering of the late JT Neal.
Neal was a man Armstrong’s own mother called a “surrogate mother” to Armstrong in his early days, when he had moved away from home to pursue his sporting career. Having been close to Armstrong from the beginning, Neal grew increasingly isolated from the cycling prodigy as Armstrong’s empire grew. This alienation led Neal’s family to provide Macur with 26 hours of audio tapes recorded by Neal before his passing, and the story they tell is not pretty.
The details of doping and duplicity in the pre-cancer days certainly provide intrigue, but it’s the sad tale of the Tour de France champion turning his back on true friends to instead surround himself with yes-men that’s most disheartening.
Even more interesting is the confession from Armstrong that he was having serious doubts very soon after announcing his comeback. Lance 2.0 could feel the anti-doping buzzards swarming, but he had already started the Livestrong snowball rolling. When Armstrong announced his mission to raise global cancer awareness he sent his fans into a frenzy, and despite sensing what was coming, he just “didn’t have the courage” to call if off.
But haven’t we had enough of Lance?
For those that say they’ve had enough of Armstrong, the thing is, the whole story just doesn’t quite add up. The bottom line is that Armstrong’s story — from either side of the trench — sells books, gets page-views and is the central focus for a large portion of people obsessed with the drama of drugs in sport. To some, Armstrong is the villainous mastermind, to others he is the scapegoat, but he is a point of interest regardless; and Cycle of Lies keeps the narrative rolling.
The book brings a number of new revelations and insights into Armstrong that will interest even the most seasoned observer. An overall tone of personal revenge, however, with Macur appearing to dance on Armstrong’s metaphoric grave, detracts from the read, no matter how justified her retaliation may be.
Cycle of Lies doesn’t answer every question, but given the number of stones turned over by Macur it seems unwise to assume she did not attempt to pry into the areas that remain cloaked in secrecy. It is Armstrong who reportedly knows where the bodies are buried, and until he opens up much will remain unknown. But for every other facet in the life and times of the fallen American Hero, Cycle of Lies is a worthy read.