Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: 'The Race to Truth' Emma O'Reilly's cycling life

A gripping read 
Imagine you spend your working life on a sports-team where there is one super-star, someone burning brighter than everyone else, someone you have a good relationship with, you think. 

Then you learn he cheated his way to all that stardom, you speak out for love of your sport, and he attacks you, grossly insults you.

Could you forgive him? Could you move on and write a book that reveals everything but also shows a rare magnanimity of spirit?

I'm not sure I could to be honest. But former soigneur (masseuse, fixer, general hold-the-team-up person) to the US Postal cycling team Emma O’Reilly has done just that.

Her book ‘The Race to Truth’ is simply gripping. Even if you have no interest in racing, this is a woman worth knowing.

You read how her passion for cycling began in her home-town of Dublin.

O’Reilly is clearly very close to her family, well-grounded and well-prepared for reality of competitive racing, and a career she descibes as exhausting, and frenetic. Her story and photographs as she becomes the only female soigneur on the Tour de France would be fascinating even without what she took on later.

But who could be prepared for the extent of the doping in that team, and others in the peloton? Who could be prepared for young men dying of heart attacks having sprinted up mountains without breaking a sweat?

O’Reilly vividly describes cyclists almost flying up steep mountains, and one man finishing a stage only to casually leap over the barricades afterwards. A more normal reaction would have been to collapse in need of liquid or oxygen or a massage, or preferably all three at once.

She talks of carrying doping material across borders, of hearing others doing it and how it slowly takes over the sport. As I read, it was impossible to see how the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) could not have noticed the records falling, the condition of the cyclists.She even writes how some cyclists started wearing dark sunglasses while racing to cover their dilated pupils.

The final chapters where she calmly describes how Armstrong attacked her, saying she was an alcoholic, first implying she was sleeping around, and then outright calling her a ‘whore’ - these are the pages which show you how strong O’Reilly is.

It’s jaw-dropping stuff, and then she finds something inside her bigger than all of it - and forgives him even before he asks it of her. She sees through his media-games, wanting her to say ‘I forgive you’ before his appearance on Oprah, and genuinely finds it within herself to move on and remember their friendship. She has done this so successfully he's written the foreword to her book. 

He wrote: "She tells what is right, and what is wrong and for a time that worked against the lies I was telling the world."
PIC: Daily Mail/Graham Chadwick
My own industry of journalism doesn’t come well out of the tale. Until I read this I’d imagined O’Reilly and David Walsh (the man who broke her claims relating to Armstrong) as having a close relationship. But she hadn’t known she was the only person to be named in his book, never really understood until it was too late that Armstrong was suing the Sunday Times but not O’Reilly.

It was an awful way to treat someone, someone going up against a man then seen as the most successful bike-rider since ...well, since ever. She makes a wry comment when telling how she met Armstrong for that extraordinary forgiveness meeting (pic above) about having one journalist accompany her and so write the story to keep the others away.

The Race to Truth, by Emma O'Reilly Buy it, borrow it from the library but read it.


Snowcatcher said...

Oh, my gosh, Niamh... you've left tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat because I still haven't fully forgiven him for how he treated Emma and a few others. She sets the standard beautifully, apparently, and even though I never wanted to read another word about him, you've made me almost want to read the book... Maybe in a few weeks...

I'm trying to be as forgiving as she has been...

Niamh said...

@Snowcatcher - it's an emotional read Deborah, and I didn't even come to it with the passion for biking you have. There are times when you want to shake her and say 'scream, it's ok to be angry' but while she does from time to time, she's more focused on the bigger picture. It's these charismatic men, they suck everyone in and it takes a lot to step outside that whirl.