Weekend Reading: Wheelmen


There are compliance lessons to be learned in Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell.

Lance Armstrong was one of the best cyclists in last 20 years. But his wins were built on a foundation of illegal doping and performance enhancing drugs. It’s not about the bike; It’s all about the needle.

Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell write a devastating tale of Mr. Armstrong’s rise and meteoric crash. Wheelmen is very well-written and well-researched. We only saw Lance on his bike. The book takes us through what was happening on the team bus and hotel.

I’m cyclist and a fan of cycling races. I first came to road cycling during the rise of Mr. Armstrong. His story as a cancer-survivor coming back to win the biggest race in the world was an inspiration. I remember watching his epic battles with Ullrich, Mayo, Beloki, and himself. Lance answered all the challenges during his seven Tour de France wins in a row. His team was stacked with great riders: Hincapie, Hamilton, Landis, Eki, Heras, Leipheimer, and many others. The team was run by a Bruyneel, a master tactician.

Those great riders and those tactics were reliant on a widespread campaign of illegal doping. The United States Anti-Doping Agency has stripped Armstrong of all of his cycling wins since his recovery from cancer.

It’s clear that most of the top cyclists during the Armstrong era were also doping. There are no Tour de France winners during those years because the men next to Armstrong on the podium most years have also been implicated in doping. It begs the question of whether Armstrong was the best cyclist or merely the best doper. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

I was sadly disappointed when the charges came out against Armstrong. Given that he had faced death, I did not think he would risk his health by doing.

“Armstrong said he wouldn’t be stupid enough to take drugs after cancer. ‘I’ve been on my deathbed,’ he said.”

It was like discovering the truth about Santa Claus.

The biggest compliance failure was that the cycling organizations had no incentive to investigate Armstrong. He was bringing media attention and fans to the sport. That meant more money for cycling. If they brought down their biggest star, the racing organizers and governing bodies would have lost money.

Good compliance programs have good testing. The cycling federations had poor testing. The riders knew how to stay ahead of the tests.

Armstrong provides an insight to the workings of a sociopath. Armstrong’s interview with Oprah was the window into the mind of a pathological liar. Armstrong had been telling the lie over and over and over. He lied to the public. He lied to the press. He lied to cancer survivors. He lied under oath.

He even lied about the testing. He proclaimed that he had been tested clean over 500 times. According to the authors of Wheelmen, the true number is half of that.

Wheelmen is great book to read if you have an interest in cycling or Lance Armstrong.