23 Days in July

John Wilcockson

Read August 2005

Veteran sports reporters are dangerous. Some are veterans because they're outstanding, others because they're too bland to have given any offense. Wilcockson is generally considered one of the better writers about cycling, but I haven't seen evidence of his ability in longer prose forms, and this book doesn't give much faith.

The book is about the Tour de France in 2004, when Lance Armstrong won a sixth time. Wilcockson is, unfortunately, not a very skeptical reporter (or did he write it all after the event, once he knew the outcome?). He presents no especially interesting, distinctive opinions about favorites, dark horses, race conditions, or just about anything else. While his own reminiscences from his time on the European reporting circuit are somewhat interesting, they aren't enough to make the book stand up.

Before he embarked on this book, Wilcockson should have asked himself a fundamental question: How can I write a book that surpasses the experience of watching the event on TV? A few anecdotes, such as Tyler Hamilton's tire bursting just after a stage of pavé, slightly help put Wilcockson in the moment, but for the most part this fails the TV test. That means Wilcockson is either not a very good journalist, or he was merely writing a hack piece for Lance's adoring following. Either way, it's a shame. (It doesn't help that the book contains factual errors: Greg LeMond may look a bit like a tousle-haired surfer but he's from Nevada, not California (pg. 8); Jan Ullrich won in 1997, not 1987 (pg. 53); etc.)

This book is not worth more than being checked out from the library, which is how I came to read it, and perhaps not even that. It may, ultimately, appeal only to the Trek-buying, Nike-wearing contingent of hard-core Lance fanatics.