Seven Deadly Sins is a book by the Irish sportswriter, David Walsh, regarding his campaign to out Lance Armstrong as a doper.
It’s a fascinating account of his decade-long pursuit of Armstrong, who at the height of his power, was virtually untouchable.
It’s amazing to think that when Armstrong was ‘winning’ multiple Tour de France, Walsh, and people who had similar views were on the periphery. They were marginalised and almost regarded as pariahs.
Armstrong’s story is an incredible one. The fact that he even made it back to professional cycling after suffering from testicular cancer is remarkable.
However, the story took on a new dimension, when he not only won the prologue of the 1999 Tour but went on to win the whole thing. The world was stunned and in awe, Walsh was also stunned, but he wasn’t in awe of Armstrong, he was sceptical of him.
To him, his performances seemed too good to be true. Armstrong had never come close to winning the Tour de France prior to his diagnosis. Now, he here was winning the whole thing after beating cancer.
It was too good to be true, and it was. The amazing this is that it took until 2012 for the admission to come out, for Armstrong to be found guilty.
The book is an intriguing look inside the murky world of professional cycling, investigative journalists and a testament to Walsh’s determination to get his man.
Table of Contents
Seven Deadly Sins summary
Takeaway 1 – Armstrong was untouchable during his seven victories
Lance Armstrong won seven Tours from 1999 to 2005. During this period, he was untouchable. No matter the allegations mounting against him, he was able to swat them aside with impunity.
David Walsh, along with fellow Irish writer Paul Kimmage, was one of the most prominent voices speaking out against Armstrong.
He wrote a book, LA Confidential, about Armstrong’s doping, which included allegations from former members of Armstrong’s inner circle.
Despite this, Armstrong was still able to get away with doping and have minimal scrutiny while doing so. It’s amazing to think now that Walsh was referred to as a “little troll” by Armstrong and that most people would believe Armstrong.
However, considering Donald Trump’s rise to power, maybe that isn’t so surprising!
One of the more shocking aspects of Armstrong’s evasion of the authorities was the complicity of the UCI, which was the governing body for cycling.
Armstrong failed a drugs test during the 1999 Tour, but a backdated prescription was ‘found’, which explained the test. This may seem strange, considering what we know now, but there were reasons this test was covered up.
The previous year’s Tour had ground to a halt following widespread doping. A team car was stopped crossing the border from Switzerland into France and was found to have huge quantities of performance-enhancing drugs.
It was a PR disaster for the Tour and came close to destroying the race. Armstrong’s story of redemption was a blessing for the Tour and UCI. Despite his cheating, they needed him to be a success to bring the feel-good factor back to cycling and banish the bad stories of the past year.
It’s this unholy alliance between the doper and the body that is supposed to uphold the value of the sport, which explains how Armstrong was able to get away with so much during his seven consecutive victories.
Takeaway 2 – Armstrong doesn’t come across as a nice person
One of the things that quickly becomes apparent in the book is how ruthless Armstrong was in going after the people who tried to out him.
He was relentless.
Betsy and Frankie Andreu were called all sorts of names for testifying against him. Frankie was once Armstrong’s best friend which makes this even more incredible.
Armstrong described his former masseuse, Emma O’Reilly, as an alcoholic whore. Reading Seven Deadly Sins it becomes clear that Armstrong was willing to trample over anybody to achieve his goals.
In the prologue of the book, there is a telling exchange between Walsh and Armstrong. It’s from the 1993 Tour, which was his first.
Armstrong talks about how he wants to do more than just compete, his desire to win. Walsh remarks that he is unlike any other young rider he has come across. That he wants to like him and is sure he will hear more of him in the future.
The words were prescient and I’m not sure Walsh realised this at the time, but there’s no doubt he did when he looked back.
In this exchange, you get a glimpse into Armstrong’s mindset, which is what propelled him to dope to the extent he did.
“Quitting is for losers, I would never quit.” In that sentence, you have what drove Armstrong to do what he did and trample over anyone who stood in his way.
In his mind, doping was a necessary evil because the alternative, in a world of dopers, was to quit. If it meant hurting a few people along the day, so be it. They were collateral.
I don’t know if Armstrong has changed since he admitted doping, or whether he has mellowed, but the man portrayed in this book does not come across well.
Takeaway 3 – Armstrong was relentless in covering up the truth
Not only was Armstrong relentless in shutting down anyone who spoke out against him, but he was also relentless in covering up the truth.
One part of this was the aforementioned strategy of intimidating and discrediting anyone who challenged him. Another key part of his strategy was to cover his tracks as best as he could.
It was a difficult strategy as the more people he crossed, the more things he had to cover up, but he was surprisingly good at it.
This is even included lying on camera at a deposition. Most people would think twice about doing this, but for Armstrong, it was a necessary part of his strategy.
To change tack now would be to admit defeat, and he didn’t do that.
One of Armstrong’s main ways of deflecting attention from his doping was to set up his charity, Livestrong. You may remember those yellow bands that became popular in the early 2000s.
It was a genius move, there’s no doubt about it. The media spotlight shifted from allegations to Armstrong’s miraculous story of cancer survival and sporting redemption.
Then to campaign to rid the world of cancer was another feather to his bow. It was all part of his plan to construct a positive appearance in front of the media to detract from any negative stories that may emerge.
The problem with lies is that they grow bigger over time and become harder and harder to keep under control.
Armstrong may have thought he was out of the woods, but his comeback and the renewed media attention meant even his relentlessness could not keep his big lie under wraps.
Thanks to the passion and determination of people like David Walsh, the truth was eventually unmasked.
Seven Deadly Sins review
This Seven Deadly Sins summary has looked at one of the best books on Lance Armstrong. The fact that it’s written by a reporter who was adamant Armstrong was doping when this was an unpopular opinion, gives it more weight.
I’m a huge fan of cycling, and I’m sad to say, a fan of Armstrong back in the day. I’d always heard the rumours but didn’t take them seriously because Armstrong never tested positive, or if on the rare occasion he did, there was an explanation.
Along with The Secret Race, written by Armstrong’s former teammate Tyler Hamilton, you get a sense of how committed to doping Armstrong was.
In no uncertain times, we are shown how Armstrong manipulated the media message, attacked those who spoke out against him and managed to cover his tracks until the facade came crashing down after his second retirement in 2010.
Even if you don’t like cycling, this is a fascinating book. It offers a window into a world where one man accrues power and utilises it for his own end, often at the expense of people who were once considered friends.
In a lot of ways, there are parallels between Armstrong and Trump. The need for loyalty, the stinging attacks on anyone who dared challenge him and, in the end, the compulsive lies necessary to keep the show on the road.
This is one of the best sports books I’ve read and you won’t find many better on the subject of Lance Armstrong!
Who should read Seven Deadly Sins?
As I mentioned in the previous section, even if you’re not a fan of cycling, you’ll find Seven Deadly Sins a fascinating book. Armstrong managed to become one of those figures that transcended pop culture. Reading about his demise is intriguing and resembles a Greek tragedy in many ways.
It goes without saying that sports fans will enjoy this book. Anyone with an interest in Armstrong should read it. If you want a look at what can happen to someone who lets power go to their head and the consequences of maintaining a lie, it’s a must-read!