Chipping away at Lance Armstrong's bulletproof veneer
Unsurprisingly, polling after the show revealed a very negative reaction: only 21 per cent of people questioned believed it was possible for him to restore his reputation, while a mere 17 per cent saw him as being completely honest in his answers to Winfrey.
For the journalist David Walsh and others who had been on Armstrong’s bad side for years, the long overdue revelation of his true character came as no surprise. The cyclist had been seen as a near saint by many, partly because of his charitable work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, more recently known as Livestrong, and also because of the compelling story of his return from advanced testicular cancer to win the Tour de France seven times.
But, as Walsh concluded back in 1999, when Armstrong first brought the yellow jersey to Paris, the Hollywoodesque story wasn’t quite what it seemed, and the man marketed as cycling’s clean new hero was using the same banned medicines as many of the Tour de France winners before him.
From fan to sceptic
Seven Deadly Sins catalogues Walsh’s work in the years since then, documenting his efforts to prove that Armstrong’s claims of racing on water alone were empty. It’s a book about Armstrong but also about Walsh’s own progression from fan of the sport to one of its biggest sceptics.
Early on, he writes of his early days following the careers of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, his reluctance to consider that they and other stars of the 1980s might be using banned substances, and his decision to write about sporting heroes rather than fallible men.
That position gradually changed over the years, as this book shows. It refers to the Late Late Show on which Walsh spoke about the Italian investigation into riders using the performance-enhancing drug EPO and the judge’s conclusion that Roche had been involved. Walsh came under attack that night, as he did years later over the Michelle Smith case, but he continued to push hard on the subject of doping and developed an intuition for when things weren’t quite right.
Armstrong’s return from cancer and his 1999 Tour de France success set off alarm bells, not least because the rider was stronger than he’d ever been before the disease. Most other journalists ran with the heroic-comeback angle, but Walsh, Paul Kimmage and several others went against the tide and wrote of their scepticism.
“This is about as logical as the Tour being led by a lobster on a bike,” Walsh writes in the book, referring to his thoughts at the time. “A lobster complete with a helmet and a moving backstory about a last minute escape from a pot of boiling water.”