The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs
by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Published in hardback by Bantam Press, £18.99
Review by Wheelsuckers member Greg Russell
I didn't want to read this book. I had seen the snippets of the 60 minutes conversations. I had seen the previous denials and to be honest, between Hamilton and Landis, I was bored with what I thought was the case of two domestiques that were unable to accept their roles and work for the team.
Laurent Fignon touched on it in "When We Were Young and Carefree" regarding his former domestique Bjarne Riis when he won the Tour in '96. He said something along the lines of: He was a very good rider but he was no champion. He was right.
Cycling seems to be full of contradictions. The most striking being a team supporting an individual.
A rider makes a difficult decision to dope or not to dope. I had a difficult decision in whether or not to buy a book which essentially looked to be a last attempt to cash in on the Armstrong days and pad out the Tyler Hamilton retirement fund.
I bought the book. I didn't read it at first. I questioned my own morals for supporting a convicted doper. What could this book possibly offer me? I opened the thing and read the first page a few days later. The first page is not a full page. It's two thirds of a page. In it he mentions Lance Armstrong 6 or 7 times.
I put it down.
I'm all for reading about a person saying sorry and getting on with their lives. I read the Riis book and he agonizes over his decision to come clean. Not the one to dope. He doesn't go into that much detail but he does comes clean and does not throw anyone under the team bus.
I read on.
Mr Hamilton goes on to tell a story. As it unfolds I am reminded of just how much Armstrong was cycling back then. Everything was Lance this, Lance that. He couldn't possibly write a book about cycling in the last decade without mentioning the guy, let alone the leader of his team.
He doesn't say Lance made me do it although he gives plenty of examples where he was meant to tow the line and that meant doing whatever it took to win or you were out. This included (described in great detail) EPO, testosterone, transfusions. There were nerves about getting caught but not about whether or not they should be doing it.
Whatever you're doing, those bastards are doing more.
He tells a story. A good story. I think its a story that needs to be heard. There is one part where he talks about getting team transfusions before the stage on Mont Ventoux in 2000 where Armstrong sprints up to Pantani like he is going through Richmond Park. Watch the youtube video of it. It is amazing. As it turns out (if you believe Tyler Hamilton) is too good to be true.
He talks about the stage in which Lance won on Alpe du Huez. 10 minutes faster than LeMond and Hinault in 1986. LeMond and Hinault would have finished 40th. Here's where my perception of the whole Lance thing and doping changed.
It reminded me of what Fignon had said: "He was good but he was no champion."
It is said that with proper training and exercise, anyone can be an elite cyclist. A champion has a gift. Something extra. EPO gave everyone a chance to have that bit extra. In that sense, Armstrong himself was able to come out and win seven straight yellow jerseys. Was he even a proper champion? Here he is portrayed as a ruthless, win at all costs tyrant. In the end you feel sort of sorry for the guy and the image he had to live up to as expectations grew. Not something most of us would want or could do. In the doping era, perhaps it's this drive that made the difference in who was or wasn't a champion.
I do find it ironic that of all the guys that rode on Postal and Discovery over the years, the two (Landis and Hamilton) that got caught are the ones that spoke about the doping on the team. Others eventually did after they were subpoenaed in the Landis whistleblower case but they were forced to under oath.
This book was very easy to read in the end. Like these types of books it's a one sided story so in the back of my mind there was always the thought...Why should I believe a convicted doper? By the end of it it had changed to...Why not believe a convicted doper?
No one is going to come out and say "I sucked so I had to use EPO."
EPO gave and gives every rider a chance to dream big. If you were on Armstrong's team and saw the money and the treatment he was getting would you be jealous? I'd say no. It's this part of the book that bothered me before and after I read it. What good is it for cycling? Everyone has a role. Ego is a very real thing. Lance's may have been all the difference he needed to win 7 straight. I admire Hamilton for his honesty.
If I'm honest with myself, I didn't know much about Tyler Hamilton and quite frankly I would not have read this book if I didn't think I'd be provided a ghoulish glimpse into the all conquering US Postal Blue Train. It was a good read and I really enjoyed it.
Now I have my own morals to question for reading dirty stories from a convicted doper.
Wheelsuckers would like to thank Greg Russell for kindly submitting this review.
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