Jun 24, 2009

It's Not About the Bike

My Journey Back to Life
by Lance Armstrong
and Sally Jenkins

All I knew about Lance Armstrong before I read this book was that he was famous, and he won that grueling cycling race, the Tour de France. I picked it up out of idle curiosity at a book sale. Like the title aptly says, it's not just about cycling. The beginning of the book describes Armstrong's childhood, how he got interested in bicycles, and his intense involvement with the sport from an early age. I knew very little about bicycle racing before, so all the little details were fascinating. I had no idea it got so technical- during training he would spend hours hooked up to computers, doing performance tests to adjust his position on a bike by the slightest increments, to find the position that used his body's energy most efficiently. Even when in the middle of a race the athletes had monitors hooked up to their bodies, radios in their ears. Here was a man whose entire occupation was about strength, endurance, and pushing his body to its limits. To go from all this to deathly illness in a matter of weeks. As I'm sure a lot of you know (but I didn't), Armstrong was suddenly diagnosed with very aggressive cancer- in the testicles, lungs and brain. For a year he battled for his life, against the worst odds. He made an amazing recovery, and discusses in depth the experience of surviving cancer, both physical and psychological. When he tried to get back into the sport, he was dismayed to find that no one wanted him on their team- and then when he found a sponsor and got into racing, many publicly doubted that he could make a comeback. He proved them all wrong, in a blistering win that practically made him an American hero.

It's Not About the Bike is a well-written, engaging, and inspirational book. There were a few times when it got dull- the chapter about his creating a foundation for cancer patients was kind of boring to read about, I'm embarrassed to say. And the epilogue, about his second win of the Tour de France (he went on to win it seven times in a row) was just too densely packed with details of the race and people involved, my eyes started glazing over. But overall a good read. An amazing story. My husband kept raining on this book, though. Every time he saw me reading it he scoffed, and pointed out the allegations against Armstrong, especially for performance-enhancing drug use, which were denied in the book. Having these negatives brought to my attention spoiled my enjoyment of the book somewhat. I feel like Armstrong was honest about his faults- he could be really aggressive and cocky, for example- but I guess you never know, when reading someone's autobiography, exactly how much is true or what's left out. In this case, I'd like to believe the author.

This one I read for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

Rating: 3/5                     289 pages, 2000

More opinions at:
Ramblings of a Bibliophile
Clearly Confused
Reading Railroad
By a Hopeless Bookaholic


  1. I have to admit that recent flap about him has kept me from reading this. It looks good though! I am always amazed at what serious athletes go through to be tops in their sport, whatever it may be (aside from illegal enhancers, etc.). I think I'm a little jealous of their dedication. :-)


  2. I admire Armstrong's tenacity but seem to remember reading that he didn't treat his wife all that nicely, so I've never been interested in reading his story.

  3. Lezlie- it certainly does take a lot of dedication to excel so at a sport- a fanatical amount, if you ask me.

    Bermudaonion- I wasn't aware that he treated his wife poorly. Although in the book he referred to her more than once as his "stud wife" which I found really odd.

  4. Sounds like a great read. I wasn't aware of these layers of controversy around Armstrong. Who are we supposed to believe? If the allegations are not true, it must be really maddening for him to be smeared.

  5. Janet- I feel exactly the same way.

  6. Wow - a good look at Armstrong huh.... I admire him, but I do not know him...


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