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Bad Blood by Jeremy Whittle

Release date: 26th June, 2009
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £12.99
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Bad Blood
By Jeremy Whittle
Yellow Jersey Press

Sportsbookofthemonth.com price: £ 8.59, saving 34% on rrp

It's rare for a sports-related book to fall squarely into the category marked 'page-turner', but Jeremy Whittle, a former editor of procycling magazine and the Official Guide to the Tour de France has produced an outstanding work that demands absolute attention from first page to last.

A keen cyclist who took to the sport following an horrific amateur football injury, Whittle was prepared, initially at least, to accept a succession of excuses and downright lies proffered by professional cyclists who maintained that the sport was clean. Gradually, Whittle realised that what he refers to as "nice, well educated and intelligent athletes" lie and cheat too.

In many respects, Bad Blood charts the author's journey from naivety to scepticism, although given the access he enjoyed to cycling's leading characters since becoming a sports journalist in 1994, his ultimate conversion is hardly surprising. "The more time I stood among team cars and on finish lines," he writes, "the more I chatted across dinner tables where tongues were freed by red wine, the more I understood that doping was everywhere."

Cycling had long endured a dubious reputation and as Whittle found himself immersed in it, so he realised "how inextricably linked it had become to medical technology", yet all the while, it was protected by an omerta, a vow of silence practiced by the riders. Men who periodically reveal the widespread extent of doping in professional cycling or their dependence upon performance-enhancing drugs are invariably ostracised; depressingly, there is little to suggest that this situation has improved.

Matters were all supposed to be so different after the notorious Festina Affair of 1998 when "the Pandora's box of [cycling's] secrets had been opened." The following year saw Lance Armstrong record his first Tour de France victory in what was acclaimed the Tour of Renewal, but according to Whittle, "it became increasingly clear that the÷doping controls had become inadequate." Moreover, as Armstrong kept winning, so cycling became richer and "without a moment's notice for the consequences, the sport scrambled to make the most of the opportunity."

Incredulously, over the intervening decade, many riders claimed they were doped without knowing what was being pumped into their bodies, but this sounds remarkably like one of our disgraced MPs saying that Westminster's fees office is to blame for their fraudulent expenses claims; to expect people to believe either beggars belief.

Almost inevitably, the domineering figure of Lance Armstrong looms large throughout Whittle's excellent narrative. Armstrong was a rider with whom the author got on well following their first meeting in Leeds - Whittle even ghosted a magazine column for the American and was, initially at least, enthralled by the athlete and his uplifting story. Yet the deeper Whittle delved into professional cycling's often macabre practices, the greater the distance between the two became.

Tantalisingly, Whittle's investigations suggest that cycling might not be the only sport tainted by doping - in fact, given the enormous sums of money swilling around many others, it would be surprising if they were entirely drugs-free.

Bad Blood is a wonderfully well-paced book (easily read in a day), at times as steady as the peleton, on other occasions fast enough to resemble a sprint finish; it rarely plods, which makes it absolutely gripping.


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