Lance Armstrong My Comeback, Elizabeth Kreutz (2009)

A photographic record of Armstrong’s 2009 season, that provides a more compelling portrait of the Texan than any of his biographies

Yellow Jersey 9780224083157 Quarto £20

For all Armstrong’s astonishing achievements, many hard-core cycling fans had wearied of his presence in the Tour by the time of his seventh victory. Watching an unbeatable athlete reasserting his dominance year after year did not make for compelling viewing.

The response to his comeback was predictably mute in those circles, as a result.

As the 2009 season progressed, however, it was evident that Lance – or Lance the phenomenon – had undergone a significant metamorphosis. A nasty crash during the early season denied him the problem-free build up to the Tour that he would have wished for. Tribulations at his team, Astana, could have come from the pages of a sensationalist novel. And Alberto Contador exuded an imperious quality that has eluded any previous rivals.

Armstrong’s response brought two new sides of him to the fore. The first was his regular humanity. He didn’t win the Tour, and that failure clearly hurt – but he dealt with it in public.

The second was what his return to cycle racing brought to the sport.

Everyone knew that Armstrong had been busy since retirement, and that he can call on Presidents, the cream of modern artists and the television camera’s of the world to assist in his projects. By returning to the professional sport, he brought the attention of all these, and more, back to the Tour, which enhanced both Lance, and the race on which he has based his reputation.

All of this is captured brilliantly in the photographs of Elizabeth Kreutz collected in this book. Lance provides some fat captions to guide you through the images, but the juice is in the pictures.

Of course, there is race action – although there are more pictures of him in Livestrong kit than Astana. But the book is made by the more revealing private moments: dropping his children off at school (by car); cutting his own hair; and, even standing over a toilet bowl, trousers around his ankles, while two doping inspectors watch him fill their sample bottle. Even more intrusive, you might think, are the X-rays showing the breaks and pins in his collar bone.

The birth of his son Max is lavishly documented, as is the state of his body on the eve of the Tour. So ripped do his legs look in one shot, that it left me feeling queasy.

There is also fascinating coverage of the Livestrong Chalkbot – whose presence on the Tour, I somehow missed. It allows supporters to text words of remembrance to a pneumatic chalk lettering machine. This is towed behind a car, and blasts messages on to the tarmac. Whether the computerised take over cycling’s fans traditional role, painting messages on the tarmac, is an altogether good thing, I am not sure. But it certainly opens up some fascinating possibilities.

The scale of the turn around in Armstrong’s reputation is evident in one of the later pictures. He is relaxing in a car reading a copy of L’Equipe bearing the headline ‘Chapeau, Le Texan’. If the French sports reporters are tipping their hat to the rider from Austin, then clearly his reputation at the very core of European cycle sport has undergone an almost revolutionary change.

The cover price probably means that this is for dedicated fans, and Christmas gifts. As coffee table books go, however, it serves up a far more engaging story than most.

PS Dec 09

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