This book is aptly titled; Martin Dugard chased Lance Armstrong throughout the 2005 Tour de France, hoping for an exclusive interview. Despite being granted the most exclusive press credential offered by the Tour’s organizers, Dugard was unable to land one. It was much later, after Armstrong won his unprecedented seventh title, that he spoke to Dugard. Dugard turns his quest into an enjoyable narrative of the Tour as seen by a fan, embellishing his account with numerous historical detours, warm accounts of the pastoral French countryside and, of course, French cuisine.
After Lance Armstrong won his sixth title in 2004, his American origin and general outspokenness (and whispered rumors of steroid use) did not endear him to the Tour organizers. They designed a “Lance proof” course for 2005, longer time trials and different sequence of races. That Armstrong came through strongly, winning the tour by more than four minutes over Ivan Basso, is well known. But in Dugard’s richly detailed book, the byplays and camaraderie share equal space with the shenanigans of Tour officials and rival bikers. What follows is an engaging portrait of an event often called the most difficult human athletic endeavor in the world, its triumphs and heartbreaks, its personalities, and the drama that accompanies its every moment.
Dugard takes the reader through each stage of the Tour that starts in Fromentine, on the west coast of France, and ends twenty-two days later in Paris. During this time, the Tour makes stops in Germany and Spain. At each stage, Dugard details the race and captures the competitiveness that underscores this unique event where teams race to enable an individual to win. In 2005, Lance Armstrong’s team competed with teams that had Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer, among others. Landis was on Armstrong’s team in 2004 and was expected then to be single-minded in helping Armstrong win. Landis chafed at this diminished role (what the French call a domestique or “servant’) and became a bitter rival the following year. This ensured that there was considerable drama in each stage, drama that Dugard captures tellingly. Dugard also vividly narrates the jingoism that pervades the Tour – from the French, the Germans, and the Spaniards – as each group roots hard for its countrymen to do well and for others to fail.
Bicycling aficionados may be put off by the ubiquitous cultural detours that Dugard takes. They may be better served by a more straightforward account of the Tour’s many stages. But for those who like the context of the Tour as much as the Tour itself, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book. While Dugard gets us into the heart of the Tour and helps us know how physically demanding it is, the pit stops that he makes to talk about a region’s history, its culture, people, and food, succeed in giving us a glimpse of an unique event and its hosts.