February 28/13 19:23 pm - Book Review: Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh
Posted by Editor on 02/28/13
David Walsh, along with Paul Kimmage, was one of the only English-speaking journalists to consistently challenge Lance Armstrong and the cycling establishment on the to-good-to-be-true story that was Armstrong. For this he was shunned, mocked, and he and his employer were sued. So, I can empathize with his sense of vindication when Lance Armstrong was finally stripped of his titles and then admitted to doping.
I had great hopes for his latest book - Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong. Going to print after the United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA) issued their Reasoned Decision, the UCI upheld it and and Armstrong declined to appeal, it was a perfect time to hear from the man who would not quit.
Unfortunately, it is not the book I had hoped for.
Seven Deadly Sins is a personal accounting of how Walsh first came to the realization that doping is a serious problem in cycling, and why he decided to attack it instead of writing the 'feel good' stories that most of his colleagues did. He is correct that not rocking the boat can mean better access to athletes, and pretty much everyone who gets into sports writing is a fan at some level, so they would rather believe the good then the bad.
The best parts of the book are when Walsh talks about the individuals and the chronology involved in the process that led to the eventual uncovering of the deceit perpetrated by Armstrong and others. He provides the background that allows for a clearer understanding of what the people who spoke up went through - the intimidation, threats, ridicule and loss of employment.
Where the book fails is when he moves away from the specifics and starts throwing around broad commentary for which he provides little proof. At times, he appears to let his bitterness get the better of him, to the detriment of his credibility.
He repeats accusations and statements that have been spread around, but that he has no proof of and, with his comments, intimates that individuals have been involved in doping when he has no proof. He clearly divides people into an 'us or them' status - if they are someone whom he feels is sympathetic to his cause, then they can do no wrong. If they are not part of this group, then they are the enemy. Ironically, this is no better than Armstrong himself.
Two out of a number of examples come to mind. First, Floyd Landis, whom Walsh paints as a surprisingly sympathetic character, primarily because he helped bring down Armstrong. This despite the fact that Landis doped for years, lied (including writing a book False Positive) and accepted over a million dollars from fans who believed him for the Floyd Fairness Fund. Despite all of this, Walsh is supportive of Landis, calling him a 'casualty' of Armstrong's bullying ways.
The second is much closer to home - Steve Bauer. I'll be quite up front; I've known Steve for some 30 years, and he is a friend. His era of racing overlapped with Armstrong, and they rode the 1995 Tour de France together on Motorola, the last of Steve's career, and at a time when EPO was making its way into the peloton. Did Steve dope? I don't know; I believe him when he says no, but that is personal belief. If some definitive proof came out that he had, I would be extremely disappointed, like I was with Michael Barry.
However, Steve is presumed to be innocent - including by one of Walsh's supporters, Greg Lemond - so I was shocked by some pages in Seven Deadly Sins that casually smeared Steve and every other member of the 1995 Motorola Tour team.
One of Walsh's interviews for his first (and, in my opinion, best) book L.A. Confidential was with New Zealand rider Stephen Swart, who rode on the Motorola team with Armstrong and Canada's Steve Bauer, specifically during the 1995 Tour de France.
There is a section on pages 231-235 of Seven Deadly Sins where Walsh describes an interview with Swart, where the now retired rider talks about pressure to perform and to start doping, specifically with EPO. Walsh writes:
"He [Armstrong] told the team that if they were going to go to the Tour they were going to have to produce. Armstrong didn't spell out explicitly what he intended to do or when he was going to start doing it. There were no rocket scientists on the ride that day but they all worked out what he meant."
Nowhere does Walsh list who was on the aforementioned ride - just the names of some riders who lived in the area.
Further on, Walsh writes that Swart describes at the Tour the entire team doing haematocrit testing: "The machine could process ten samples at once so everyone got tested. The numbers were called out like a lotto. Stephen [Swart] was around 46, 47, which in the brave new world was sort of lamentable. Pretty much everybody else including Lance was 50 or above."
This was troubling to me, because it insinuates that Steve Bauer was involved in doping, as part of the 'everybody'. Bauer's name is not mentioned anywhere else, and there are no direct allegations that he doped, but still, it left a worrying niggle in my mind - an unfortunate by-product of the current atmosphere in professional sport.
I contacted Steve about this - you can read his response in our news item Bauer Responds to Insinuations About 1995 Tour.
Steve made one very salient point: There is broad, purposeful vagueness and insinuation in the words of the journalist and his interpretation of the interview by using words like “feeling”, “and others”, “I can’t remember”, “pretty much”, “he tells this as if unsure”, “lucky to be alive”.
There are many examples where Walsh goes from the specific to the general, without any proof or corroborating information to support his declarations. This is the great failing of the book, and does harm to the cleaning up of the sport, since it basically tars everyone with the same brush.
Was there rampant and systematic doping going on? Undoubtedly, and we still haven't uncovered it all, I'm sure. Did Walsh suffer personally and professionally for his efforts? Definitely. However, I would argue that Walsh undermines some of the important work he has done by his obsessive recounting of every hurt he receives and every score he makes.
He even recognizes it himself, when he recounts a statement from Paul Kimmage: "You have done your bit; get a bit more balance back in your working life and make sure you've got more time for your famly. And remember too that Armstrong is only one guy, you don't want to forget all the others."
In summary, this is not a book that is going to add much to the mission of uncovering doping in professional cycling. It does offer some much needed recognition of the individuals who stood up to bullying and false accusations, which is an excellent purpose. However, I wish it had done both.
Published by Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4767-3711-9 . Canadian hardcover price $29.99