Before the whole world knew he was one of the industry’s greatest drug cheats, Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, It’s Not About the Bike, was topping the best seller lists and inspiring millions to get active and fight cancer. Co-written with Sally Jenkins, the book opens with Armstrong’s early life. He candidly recounts what life was like growing up in a single parent household, and how not having a father shaped his personality. The man knew from an early age that endurance sports motivated him, and it moulded him into a fierce competitor. By age 16, he was a professional tri-athlete, competing against seasoned professionals. Soon, though, cycling took over. Four years with Motorola saw Armstrong win the UCI Road World Championship, as well as other multiple stage races.
In It’s Not About the Bike, Armstrong and Jenkins paint numerous individuals as larger than life characters: the local mechanic, the neurosurgeons, Armstrong’s cycling teammates. What makes the book so enjoyable is that ordinary people Lance knows become amazing people, made to sound as if they are the most entertaining and amazing characters you could ever hope to meet.
Perhaps, the most inspiring section of the book is the comprehensive coverage of Armstrong’s battle with cancer. It was certainly a long slow recovery process for him. His descriptions of being so weak that even opening his eyes was hard, or having to sleep for 20 hours a day, make the section a heavy read, but one that the book would be much poorer without. Cancer affects a lot of people, directly and indirectly. Yes, Armstrong may have cheated his way to victory in the Tour De France, but he could only fight honestly against the cancer raging through his body.
So, what parts of the Tour De France section of this autobiography are honest? Only Lance can really answer that. This book came out quite a while ago (2000) when doping allegations were able to be swiftly dismissed as vendettas or “sour grapes”. The continuous denials within the book are so relentless, I think even Armstrong believed that he wasn’t doping: the EPO, testosterone and human growth hormone was all for recovery – it wasn’t cheating. Does this mean his denials were justified? Well, in my opinion, no. However, reading Armstrong’s accounts of the Tour De France training camps, extreme dieting, slipstreams and more was intriguing, because people often are at a loss for words when describing the extent of the endurance needed by the riders of the world’s most famous cycle race.
Sure, It’s Not About the Bike may, indeed, contain some fictional passages. But Armstrong remains an interesting character, and many aspects of his life are well worth reading about.