In Tour de Lance, Bicycling magazine editor-at-large Bill Strickland uses Lance Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France after a three-year retirement as an opportunity to accompany him through nine grueling months of training and the race itself to take stock of a world-class athlete in a period of transition. Armstrong frames his comeback as a promotional vehicle for his foundation’s anticancer efforts, but a simpler truth soon emerges: Fish swim, birds fly, and Lance pedals. The 45-year-old Strickland tries to be objective; he describes the Armstrong he met in 1994 as “an ignorant, gutsy, mouthy, and unpredictable kid.” But he also admits that he once owned an autographed Lance Armstrong lunchbox. Still, Strickland’s breezy style and insider knowledge produce high drama, low humor (who knew Tour riders sometimes stop en masse for a communal “arrêt pipi”), and a mind-boggling primer on pro cycling’s Machiavellian gamesmanship (though the book was printed too early to include a discussion of the doping accusations against Armstrong that surfaced last month). Witnessing the brutality of this tour brings a new appreciation for the brash Texan who won seven in a row and is back for more. Harmony Books, $25.99