Tyler Hamilton, the former team mate of Lance Armstrong at US Postal who last year confessed to having used performance enhancing drugs throughout his career, has appeared on American TV to talk about his book The Secret Race, published today, which provides detailed allegations of doping against his former team leader and has been described as “300 pages of smoking gun.”
Hamilton, who retired from cycling in 2009 after receiving an eight-year doping ban – he had earlier been banned for two years as a result of failing a doping control during the 2004 Vuelta – appeared on the MSNBC Today show this morning alongside co-author Daniel Coyle.
The latter spent several months with Armstrong ahead of the Texan winning the Tour de France for an unprecedented sixth time in 2004 to research his book Lance Armstrong – Tour de Force.
That book painted a flattering portrait of the man last month banned from sport for life and stripped of his results dating back to 1998, and like many others, Coyle has long since revised his opinion of Armstrong.
Today host Matt Lauer began by putting Hamilton on the spot about his own past, saying “You have admitted to doping in the past and you have admitted to lying about it. So why do I believe what you've put in this book right now?”
Hamilton, who went public on his use of performance enhancing drugs on the CBS show 60 Minutes last year, replied: “This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, to come clean, I lied for a long, long time and there was an omerta, people really encouraged me not to speak.
“I planned to take this secret to the grave, there was a federal investigation, I sat up there in front of the grand jury and told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Lauer put a similar question to Coyle, asking him: “Your name is on this book, are you confident that the guy who lied in the past about doping and his role in all of this is telling you the truth?”
“Absolutely,” he responded. “Before I agreed to do this book, we made an arrangement - no subject was off limits, I had access to all of his materials, and everything would be independently confirmed. So I spent two years talking to former teammates, wives, girlfriends, staffers, so this thing rests on a foundation of independent reporting.”
The book’s publication – originally scheduled for Armstrong’s birthday later this month, whether by design or coincidence – was brought forward after the he chose not to contest the charges laid against him by the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) through arbitration.
With full details of USADA’s case against Armstrong not yet made public, the book lifts the lid on Hamilton’s version of events at US Postal, where he rode between 1995 and 2001, and the recent turn of events has ensured the kind of publicity for it that money just can’t buy.
It’s likely that many readers will be less interested in what Hamilton has to say about himself than what he says about Armstrong as Lauer pointed out to him.
“A lot what's in the book is about you, it's about your career and your time with the Tour de France but the headlines of course are going to be about Lance Armstrong,” he said, challenging Hamilton over whether he had any physical evidence of his former teammate having failed doping controls.
“Well, first of all, I passed hundreds of tests when I probably shouldn't have,” countered Hamilton.
“How? The average person wants to know how that can happen. Because the testing's pretty sophisticated,” asked Lauer.
Hamilton went on: “The testing's great, you know the United States Doping Association [sic] they've been doing a fantastic job, they've been improving their tests, but back in the day, the time I was riding, we had doctors that were one step ahead of the testers.”
Quoting a line from the book - 'They've got their doctors, we've got ours, and ours are better' Lauer put it to Hamilton that “they knew how to get you around those tests?”
“They sure did,” was his answer.
The subject turned to the infamous positive test for EPO that Armstrong is alleged to have given during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and which USADA claims was covered up with the help of the UCI.
“Back in 2001, you write in the book, and Dan you’ll jump in here, that Lance Armstrong talked to you once and he said he got 'popped,' which was his term, according to you, for he failed a test prior to the Tour of Switzerland. Tell me about that,” asked Lauer.
Hamilton explained: “I remember being in Switzerland at this ski resort where we finished a time trial the day before and we'd just finished breakfast, we were walking outside and he told me that he'd just gotten caught.”
“Now why didn't that make national and international headlines,” queried Lauer. “If he failed a drug test, why didn't that get all over the press?”
Coyle stepped in to respond. “That's a great question,” he said. “What happened next is a call was made from cycling's governing body, the UCI, that this test should go no further. This matter should end here.
“So you're claiming a cover-up?”
“That's right,” Coyle continued. “So then there was a meeting between Armstrong, his coach and the lab, there was also a $125,000 donation from Armstrong to the UCI.”
Coyle’s response to Lauer’s next question produced the most memorable soundbite of the interview.
The presenter pointed out: “But Lance Armstrong vehemently denies being part of any cover-up, the International Cycling Union [UCI] denies there was any cover-up, so do you have a smoking gun? Because if you do, case closed.”
“We have 300 pages of a smoking gun, an avalanche of evidence,” was Coyle’s response.
“It doesn't surprise me they denied it,” added Hamilton. “I denied it for years. After a while you get pretty good at it. I've lied to you before, straight to your face,” he told Lauer, “so for me it's a huge weight off my back. Today I feel fantastic.”
“Obviously the book is going to create a lot of waves,” continued Lauer. “This guy, Lance Armstrong, has done an enormous amount for the sport of cycling, he's done an enormous amount for people throughout the world through his foundation. In your opinion, how should history treat him?
Oh, Lance Armstrong is one of the best athletes I've ever met,” admitted Hamilton. “Hands down. He's done incredible things. I think we'll just let the cards play the way they fall, I guess.”
Lauer revealed that Armstrong had issued a statement to the programme in advance of the interview with Hamilton and Coyle which stated: “Tyler Hamilton was a teammate of Lance's more than a decade ago. Writing a book today about events that allegedly took place more than ten years ago is not about setting the record straight or righting a wrong; it is greedy, opportunistic and self serving...”
“How do you respond?” he asked Hamilton.
“It's the truth,” said Hamilton. “Again, I'm not surprised by that - I denied for such a long time and there are other people still denying and it's hard to come to terms with that, to tell the truth. For me, telling my parents for the first time, my friends, that was just brutal.”
“People have a right to know the truth about this,” added Coyle. “He's an icon for millions of people and he's an icon because he inspired people through his winning. And now, there's some truth coming out about exactly how he won. And now people can make up their own minds.”
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover- ups, and Winning at All Costs is published by Bantam in the US and (with some minor differences reportedly due to UK libel laws) by Transworld in the UK.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.