on 20 October 2012
Anyone who does drugs or dopes in sport are cheats, right? They're scum: defrauding fans, cutting short their rivals' careers by giving themselves an unfair advantage. They win medals, accolades and sponsors' money that they don't deserve.
But is it as black and white as that, or is it all one big grey area?
Tyler Hamilton's autobiography is all about that area. What if you worked as hard as you possibly could, got yourself onto the start lines for the pinnacle of your sport, you tried and tried ... and then found you couldn't compete. It's not because you don't have the talent, or because you haven't put the hours in - it's because those around you are using little red pills, or white bags, they have barely distinguishable needle marks in their arms - and they go that little bit quicker than you time and time again.
The authorities don't want to do anything about it, it's almost impossible to prove, and so you have a choice: Join them and compete on a fair-ish playing field, or give everything up and go home to find something else to do.
What do you do?
Is Tyler Hamilton a cheat? yes he is - he'll tell you that. This autobiography is not self-serving, it's not a man trying to justify what he did, or claw back some sort of reputation, this is an astonishing tale of widespread doping at the highest level of sport. It's scary because things such as blood transfusions, taking pills and sticking needles in yourself seems so normal.
Some say this book is about Lance Armstrong and to a degree it is - but it's really about human beings and what we do to ourselves when the pressure is on.
As with all sporting books, or perhaps books in general, what makes this terrific is that it's about people: flawed people and tough choices.
You don't have to be interested in cycling to read this, perhaps not even sport. You simply need any sort of interest in why human beings do the things they do. I've not read a book that's stuck with me like this has in absolutely ages.
on 10 October 2012
The Secret Race is well written, easy to read and a very fascinating story about the life of Tyler Hamilton as well as the cloak-and-dagger environment of professional cycling.
The book is well balanced between the different time periods of Hamiltons career, including an adequate into his childhood and early amateur days in the US. The bulk of the book is concentrated around his US Postal years and his relationship with Lance Armstrong. The LA part of the book tends to take up a little too much space at times and one certainly gets the impression that this relationship is indeed complicated. The final chapters of the books describing the FDA/USADA investigations appear less well written probably representing the emotional turmoil of these recent events but that doesn't spoil the overall impression of the book.
Contrary to most other 'confessions of a doper books' Hamilton actually spills the beans about almost everyone, but he does it in a quite non-condemning way, and people with an interest in cycling will find lots of interesting tid-bits.
Is it credible? I have a long running interest in doping in cycling, I'm an MD and a former amateur elite rider and well connected with both doctors and riders in cycling and I'll rate the contents as quite credible.
The book is as well written as 'Rough ride' and as detailed as 'Massacre a la chaine' and highly recommended.
on 19 September 2012
Before reading this book I would have answered the following questions about Lance Armstrong as follows:
Q1. Did he dope?
A1. Most probably yes.
Q2. Did the whole peloton dope, and therefore wasn't Armstrong just maintaining a level playing field?
A2. Just about - yes.
Q3. Have his denials since winning his last Tour been in this spirit?
Q4: Hero or villain.
After reading the book, and believing the confessions about Tyler Hamilton as well as his accounts of other riders, my answers have changed to:
A1. Oh yes. Big time.
A2. Most of the peloton in the 90s were doping, but Armstrong was doping most. He applied his one-step ahead philosophy not only to his training but also to his doping as well. The best doctors, the best drugs, the best methods, the best connections with the authorities. Three blood infusions over the course of a three week Tour was not close to a level playing field. Did this abuse distort the results of the races - most probably yes.
A3. His denials have been absolute, condescending and at times threatening to others, and have cost him a large amount of money to construct. They are discrediting to him and others, untrue, and calculated to defend a personal reputation and fortune.
Let us hope that the book contributes to his deserved and overdue outing.
on 29 September 2012
I actually bought this as it was coauthored by Dan Coyle. I'd read a book he'd written a number of years ago on Armstrong and was impressed then by the quality of his research and writing and overall balanced view. I did not realise I was buying one of the most important and honest books on doping in the peloton, that I have read in over 20 years.
This book sets down a marker and will become a matter for the historical record. I expect a lot more information to become public as cases are pursued in the autumn. One of the key questions will be about the role of the UCI - did it do its best or was it negligent, incompetent or corrupt? The book clearly suggests corruption at the highest level. For too long the focus has been on individual riders rather than a root and branch examination of the entire system.
A great book, quick to read and gripping. One always reads exposes like this sceptically, as the author will have his own agenda, nevertheless, this has the ring of authenticity and is backed by Coyle's investigative journalism and recent events such as USADA's investigation. It's a shame we've had to wait so long, and a greater shame that so many still appear in denial in the sport. It was clearly cathartic for Hamilton to write this and allowed him to move on and took a lot of courage to do so.
Buy it and make up your own mind.
on 18 September 2012
Most thought he is a superb human machine...but I always had my reservations about Lance Armstrong....one man winning a grueling race like the Tour De France 7 times ... this book explains how he did it -through doping, using his connections, and controlling those around him. The book focuses a lot on the writer's relationship with Lance almost to be the point of obsessing about him but I guess it was unavoidable considering they spent lots of time together on the same team,lived next to each other, and Lance 's ambition to be the only star and winner at all costs,thereby blocking others in a way, ... Now that Lance has been stripped of his titles in the USA and banned from competing in triathlon races,and marathons in the USA, it shows that this book has truth in it.
This book sheds a lot of light on the sport and what it takes to be an road racer,
- determination , motivation , love of the sport and the obstacles involved. I hope we can now start watching clean Tour De France races. I enjoyed this book, its interesting and easy to read , I read it in 2 days. I gave this book 4 stars because I felt the story is not yet complete ,.. there is more to come on the Lance Armstrong saga
I found this book very interesting and highly recommend it.
Tyler Hamilton was a professional cyclist who was a key member of the US Postal Team in which Lance Armstrong won his first three Tour de France titles. This book is essentially his autobiography - something that I had never realised, thinking it was a more generic book about cycling and doping. He is a likeable individual and with the assistance of Daniel Coyle has written a highly readable book about his career and what it was like to be a member of the US Postal Team. This book opened my eyes to a lot of things that I hadn't been aware of before. Yes I knew that there was doping, but not how much, how widespread and how professional it was.
This is a book that I have intended to read for some time. Since Lance Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, it lacks the shock factor that presumably it had when first published. Nevertheless it is a fascinating story that really sheds light on the extent of doping within professional cycling. Before reading this I was of the belief that only a small number of cyclists were cheating, but after reading this I think the opposite must be the case. But having said that, it is less easy to dismiss them as evil cheaters than I would have before. As Hamilton points out, if everyone is doing it, if that's your only avenue to a career, what decision do you make? To be honest, I found it depressing. And I'm sure as Hell not buying any "spanish beef" stories.
I have read several books about Lance Armstrong so it was hardly a surprise to read about his controlling and dictorial personality, but I was still pretty shocked by how unpleasantly he comes across and how the entire team, medical and coaching staff revolved solely around him and his needs. This is despite the fact that Hamilton makes a real effort not to paint a one-sided picture of Armstrong.
I read the 2012 edition, but if ever there was a book crying out for an updated postscript it's this one.
on 28 October 2012
I for one always wanted to believe Lance was a freak, someone blessed with that something special that turned his amazing work-rate and training ethos into 7 wins on the TdF. But as more and more evidence appeared, it was harder and harder to ignore what seemed obvious. He did dope. After listening to an excellent BBC Radio 5 Live documentary (Peddlers - Cycling's Dirty Truth) where Tyler Hamilton was the main subject (though many other protagonists in the USADA case were interviewed as well), I decided to buy Hamilton's book.
It's easy to say this is just one person's view of doping, someone close to Lance, someone (possibly) with a grudge against him. But it doesn't read like that. And the cross references at the end of each chapter make it clear there is more than enough research and evidence to support much, if not all, of what Tyler was saying. And, yes it does paint a very different picture of the private Lance Armstrong. Whether you believe Armstrong to be innocent or not, read this book for at least a different view of Pro-cycling, doping and the reasons why top athletes (at least in this sport) bought into it. It explains how easy it was to dope, how prolific it was, and provides a better picture of why it's possible all the top cyclists during the Lance Armstrong era (including Lance) doped to win.
It is a very interesting (and on the face of it) honest read.
This is a publication of the means to which Lance Armstrong and his team of fellow riders (of the inner circle) with the aid of the best managers, aids and medical personnel would go to be the best in the world. Tyler Hamilton's descriptions of these methods are vividly portrayed in the book. He tells this as a factual story backed by his and colleagues' observations and self-confessed dopers, reinforced by retrospective analysis of Armstrong's blood and urine samples for erythropoietin,(EPO), synthesised in the 1980's and readily available in the 1990's, sensitive tests for synthetic EPO not having been developed by French scientists until 2000. Long thought to be used by many sports people in different fields, there have been rumours for years that its use along with infusion of pre-donated blood was rife amongst those with the money, connections and knowhow, added to the disguises and subterfuge of coming clean in drug testing.
Hamilton writes with his co-author as if giving evidence under testimony. No lurid acrimonious tales, just stating the facts as known. Lance Armstrong overcame testicular cancer and set up a cancer-raising charity. Under the circumstances his return to cycling was admirable and in retrospect, inevitable. No doubt brave, highly motivated, competitive and ruthless in his pursuit of glory. He may have been the best Tour de France cyclist ever but we will never know for certain. He has never admitted to the allegations and evidence against him. Hamilton seems to bear no grievances to his colleague seemingly hoping Armstrong can also unburden himself if he desires. It is a sad indictment of a marvellous sport that hopefully is recovering from being tainted. Recent track and road results would indicate so. The same can be said for other sports.
Hamilton gives his reasons for his book. His motives may be many but this is a book that anyone interested in cycling, sport, drug usage should find fascinating. I certainly did.
on 16 July 2013
I was bought this book as a present whilst having shunned it on the grounds of someone making a lot of money (presumably?) out of a book that tells the story of how he (Hamilton) made millions out of cheating in cycling. But having been given a copy I thought I may as well read it. I have to confess that on the whole I found the book has changed my view of the character of the many cyclists who got caught up in the doping scandal that rocked cycling in the era dominated by the now disgraced Lance Armstrong. I can now see how easy and apparently 'normal' it was (is?) to improve your performance by taking banned substances - and that if you didn't your career was ended.
My only real issue with Hamilton presenting himself as the victim in all this (which I am for the most part now convinced he is, along with all the other cyclists including Armstrong), was that having been caught and served a 2 year ban for doping, he went straight back into the same of old tricks and won an Olympic gold medal on the back of it.
Hamilton's difficulties about living with the secrecy and guilt are very well portrayed and I felt this was largely a well balanced and credible account.
Armstrong, as you might expect, does not come out of this book with much to his credit. His drug taking is perhaps no worse than anyone else's, but his use of intimidation, bribery, bullying and his own massive influence made me feel both sad and cheated by the fact that I had once (for a long time) believed him to be innocent.
Personally I think this book justifies the hype that surrounds it and am very glad I got round to reading it.
I just hope like hell that Wiggins et al at Team Sky really are the clean riders they claim to be.
on 11 July 2013
Critics too often claim books are "unputdownable". Well this one really is: the Secret Race is absolutely gripping.
I read David Millar's autobiog before this and was disappointed at how bland it was and how little true exposure of doping Millar provided. In contrast, this book goes into real detail about life as a cyclist during the Armstrong "doping wars" years and to what lengths the pros went to win.
The book also has resonance in today's peloton. I am sure that Contador had a positive-echo when he tested positive for Clenbuterol - he must have used a contaminated ("glowing") blood bag during the rest day of the 2010 Tour. Contador has come back from his ban and looks a shadow of his former self, perhaps the exposes of doping and blood transfusions that Hamilton details and the enforced retirement of Armstrong really has lead to a cleaner peloton?
Having read other books by Coyle on Armstrong, this is also very well written and full of compelling stories. It is even more fascinating to know that everything Hamilton claims has since been admitted (belatedly and no doubt with an eye to another book) by Armstrong.
Armstrong is portrayed as a very controlling, neurotic, borderline sociopath. His ratting on Phonak to his friends at the UCI after being beaten up to the Ventoux on the Dauphine Libere is even more disturbing than his bullying, intimidation and humiliation of his "team-mate" Contador in Armstrong's comeback Tour. Hamilton's assessment that Armstrong had the UCI and the Tour in his pocket is very telling. Given what has happened since publication, I would say Hamilton is pretty much spot on.
If I have one criticism, it's that after reading The Secret Race, all other cycling books pale in comparison.