When David Walsh, the chief sports writer of The Sunday Times, set out to meet the Stepanovs for the first time, he thought he was writing a doping story. As the journalist who relentlessly pursued Lance Armstrong, he knows how to handle those. But in The Russian Affair, he has ended up with so much more. Armstrong is a fascinating character, but, as it turns out, the devil does not get all the best lines. The extraordinary, lurching relationship between Vitaly and Yuliya lies at the heart of a turbulent but ultimately inspiring tale. The candour with which they have allowed Walsh to tell their story is rare and gripping.
The Russian Affair explores how this ultimate odd couple — the pill-popping athlete and the man who took urine samples — became the whistleblowers who helped to expose the country’s state-sponsored doping programme. In the hands of the Sunday Times chief sports writer, David Walsh, the journalist who showed in a 13-year crusade that it really wasn’t about the bike for Lance Armstrong, it reads like a thriller, or even a spy novel. There’s an idealistic hero, divided loyalties, envelopes stuffed with cash that make any problem disappear and even a mysterious prison death. Walsh keeps you gripped.