The latest cycling book review has landed ahead of Christmas, as Brendan Gallagher reviews Emma O’Reilly’s The Race to Truth about the Lance Armstrong years.

The book charts O’Reilly’s experiences working with Armstrong at US Postal and a complex relationship that went from working with, testifying against and then eventually reconciling with one of the most notorious figures in cycling.  Read on to find out more about the book, and Brendan’s review.

There’ll be more book reviews coming soon, plus more news and the shortlist for the SweetSpot Cycling Book of the Year Award 2014.

And don’t forget at the foot of the article you can find links to previous reviews, whether you’re still looking for a cycling Christmas present, or wanting to find out what should be added to your festive season reading list.

The Race to Truth – Blowing the whistle on Lance Armstrong and cycling's doping culture, by Emma O'Reilly
Out Now, published by Transworld Books, £12.99
Review by Brendan Gallagher
Available from all good book stores, and online here from Amazon.

WHEN the dust has settled and cycling historians look afresh at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong – especially the almost Shakespearian fall from grace – one testimony is sure to stand the test of time because it was transparently honest and free from any pressing personal agenda. 

Step forward Emma O'Reilly's whose account of those years in The Race to Truth was by some distance the most compelling book on the subject of doping in 2014 – given her incredible story how could it be otherwise? – and it was heartening to see the reception O'Reilly was given at the London Sports Book Festival this year. At last she is getting the recognition and respect she deserves.

""O'Reilly, a sassy Dub who calls a spade a spade, witnessed first-hand the doping culture at US Postal and was then projected as the chief whistle blower. By nature loyal and a team player a large part of her rebelled at the thought of dishing the dirt on the sport she had grown to love and she was alarmed that her experiences, chronicled in book LA Confidential, were projected largely as an attempt to expose Lance Armstrong individually rather than the sport in general. That wasn't her intention at all and she remains angry at that misconception

She paid grievously for her honesty as the writs, subpoenas and affidavits flew in and various legal sharks – most of them earning obscene money – descended while she was barely eking out a living and woke most mornings in fear of being rendered bankrupt by the random decision of a court. 

Further down the line certain riders also did well financially with their belated ‘memoires’ and one of the most distasteful parts of the entire Armstrong affair was how it became a business and cash cow for some of the participants and a ‘get out of gaol’" card to play for others as they sought exoneration from their past sins while at the same time maintaining a lucrative foothold in the sport. 

The stress and the strain of the those years, when her every word was doubted and ridiculed before Armstrong finally fell on his sword, contributed significantly to the break up with Mike Carlisle, her long term partner. Carlisle was immensely supportive despite suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, a debilitating condition that grew worse with every months of the ongoing crisis. He paid a heavy price as well and O'Reilly acknowledges his bravery and support fully.

This is a surprising book in many ways and although the subject matter is heavy O'Reilly has a light touch and it rattles along.  She steadfastly refuses to join the general vilification of Armstrong and goes ‘off-message’ with some frequency. Among other things she is adamant that he should be punished equally – no more no less – than other dopers from the era who roam free and still hold down important jobs in the industry. As she repeatedly says Armstrong didn’t invent doping, he inherited the system. 

Yes, for a while, she hated Armstrong with a vengeance – this is the man after all who at one stage branded her a liar, alcoholic and whore – but she also freely admits to liking and admiring the guy before it turned nasty.
Now, as the cordite clears, they have reconciled and feel comfortable in each other's company again with the book chronicling that reconciliation in Miami. They remain in regular contact which is a remarkable tribute to her generosity of spirit and proof positive that she was never gunning for him as an individual. It was the sport generally she had persuaded herself that she could perhaps help.

By way of narrative O'Reilly simply tells it as it was which can be a tad unnerving after reading so many half-truths over the years or accounts where there was an agenda, something to be gained whether it be retribution, self-justification or good old fashioned money.

O'Reilly makes it clear that doping existed at US Postal before Armstrong, freshly recovered from his cancer, arrived and others were already participants regardless of his presence. They were grown adults and elite athletes and were well capable of making their own decisions and mistakes.

As she graphically recalls Armstrong wasn't even racing or present at the infamous 1998 Tour de France when, after the Festina bust, the US Postal team fridges were emptied overnight of suspicious packages in brown bags most of the contents being reportedly ditched in a remote field in France. She also states that at no time did she see him openly coerce others in to doping although of course their usefulness within the team would be pretty limited unless they were able to support the team's star rider. 

O'Reilly was in awe at his drive and work ethic which was way beyond anybody else, admired his charity work, and – here's another surprise – insists he was one of the few in the team who had no truck with sexist behaviour and treated her completely as an equal in a macho male dominated industry

Armstrong, however, was Jekyll and Hyde with knobs on, no question, and as the alpha male of the group he undoubtedly began to set the tone in doping and from 1999 – his first Tour de France win – it was clear beyond all doubt to O'Reilly what was going on. Indeed at one stage, full of self-disgust, she even found herself pressed into service as a mule when he badly needed a delivery of a small bottle of pills for Armstrong. No questions no pack drill but she knew precisely what was happening.  

Her way of survival was to go into denial while at the same time being fully aware of what was happening. Her pact with herself was to remain a 'clean' soigneur working 24/7 at the 101 mundane tasks that keep a bike team and its riders on the road.  

O'Reilly had always promised herself that she would bail out of the madcap world she stumbled into by the age of 30 and that's more or less what happened although not on her terms, being eased out of her job as Armstrong's personal soigneur in 2000 after serving him loyally throughout 1999, his breakthrough year in the Tour de France

Outwardly a huge personality clash with Johan Bruyneel was the reason but it’s quite clear that having a clean soigneur at the heart of matter was, by this stage, never going to work for Armstrong or US Postal. Armstrong briefly fought for her retention after her initial dismissal but as the 2000 season progressed O’Reilly was kept from working with him and by the end of the season she was cast aside without a second thought after her usefulness extinguished. Emma O’Reilly was history.

Or so Armstrong thought. Their individual life paths since then have been remarkable but what is most extraordinary of all is that they almost certainly exchanged warm Christmas cards this Yuletide.

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