- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 10 October 2012
This book was released a month ago and I resisted reading it, until I spotted it at a book store on holiday and gave in. To put it simply, if you have followed pro cycling during the last decade then you will find The Secret Race captivating. Ex-Pro Cyclist Tyler Hamilton sets you in the middle of the peloton and reveals the shadowy side of cycling.
After Hamilton was busted for blood doping and couldn’t clear his name, he kept a low profile until he was summoned by Jeff Novitzky and, under oath, revealed all. Though this case against Lance Armstrong was dropped the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) has come now close formally convicting one of the most prominent cyclists of our times.
The release of The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton, “co-authored” by Daniel Coyle, is well timed and critics are quick to point out that Hamilton will profit handsomely from it; after all, it is focused primarily on Hamilton, Armstrong and doping. As it turns out, Hamilton was in the right place at the right time to give us an account of what went on.
The book is an eye-opener and Hamilton owns up to his failings; he isn’t a saint and shows his path to doping and cheating the system. Systematic doping and evading the authorities was planned in careful detail. When you are already riding at your limit, getting the extra advantage can be the difference to getting dropped or attacking and dropping others. It was not a level playing field, rather competition of who was doping the best.
This is a well written book that I found hard to put down until I had finished reading it. The level of detail makes it really hard to believe that this is just another fairy tale. The personality traits and power of Armstrong are uncovered. Where the seven time Tour de France winner is a confident and charismatic personality in the media, inside the cycling world he can dominate, intimidate, manipulate and control. It’s pretty damning, and while Hamilton is portrayed as a more passive character in the relationship, even after leaving (or being ejected) from team US Postal, his journey continued with doping.
One incident sheds light on the relationship between Hamilton and Lance: in 2004 Hamilton’s team was summoned to the UCI headquarters in Switzerland. What seemed to be an unusual but unspectacular event was put into perspective when Armstrong’s team-mate, Floyd Landis, hinted shortly after that Armstrong was behind it, telling the UCI that Hamilton and the team were using new doping techniques.
Though it was obvious that Hamilton found it unfair, the relationship between the two continued as unfriendly rivalry. At least until Hamilton was busted for doping. He documents his demise, and details his depression and rejection. As clear and believable as many of the episodes are, others are speculative or open to speculation. Documenting instances of injecting EPO with other riders in the same room has more credibility than the stories heard “on the grapevine”. The book however pulls these into the chronological context and, in the case of the Dr Ferrari and Lance Armstrong connection for example, it becomes less and less likely that this relationship never involved doping prescriptions.
The author Daniel Coyle adds useful factual footnotes throughout the book that add context and value to the memoirs. As a reader I was always engaged; it was never too vague nor overly complex.
While it offers a level of satisfaction, confirming what went on behind closed doors, the Lance Armstrong saga remains unsettled; there may never be an actual admission of guilt, even though the evidence is stacked against him. As a powerful influencer, anything inconvenient can be wrapped up in spin, critics can be attacked and their motives questioned, their characters destroyed.
Though doping doesn’t turn lazy cyclists into winners, as Hamilton points out, doping also doesn’t create a level playing field.
Whether you are for or against Lance, or remain undecided, this is a good read and provides a new perspective, one you wont get from Phil Liggett. It is worth noting that there are differences in the US and UK versions of this book, the UK libel laws are stricter. The differences are relatively minor though if you are curious, the Velo Veritas website documents these differences.