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Verdict: 
Insightful, honest and compelling insider's account of doping in the pro-peloton
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The Secret Race - Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle
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If, like me, you watched Armstrong's last winner's speech from the TDF podium in 2005 - as he admonished the world press and all those that 'can't believe in miracles" - were you asking yourself the same question I was? 'Has he really been riding clean and beaten a field of dopers for the past 7 years in a row - or does he not recognise what he's done as cheating?' Seven years later and the answer is finally here.

I've read a fair few cycle books and biographies over the years and The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at al Costs (to give it its full title) starts with the familiar gold lit groundwork: Hamilton's apple pie childhood through his first junior races to becoming a pro - but when our bright-eyed boy joins US Postal in 1995 it becomes a very dark tale indeed.

If, like me, you were still expecting a slightly cheesy "I was on a journey" routine and maybe a few self-serving recollections of reluctant pill-popping at the back of the bus with the big boys I advise you to hold onto your handlebars.

What you get is the best account yet of the whole rotten arms race of drug taking that was pro cycling in the 1990's - and into the new century.

It's a well written description of what it took - or should I say one took - to compete in a sport where you had to assume that everyone around you had an unfair advantage. To keep up with them you either joined them or got off the bike for good.

Hamilton grew wise pretty quickly: "...For a thousand days I'd been cheated out of my livelihood and there was no sign that things were going to get any better. So I did what many others had done before me. I joined the brotherhood".

And did he ever. Hamilton's tale makes David Miller's couple of guilty EPO sessions seem like sharing a spliff behind the bike sheds with Cindy from 5C. Hamilton gives you the whole pharmacy as it developed: how much a single testosterone pill might boost your performance for the next day, how micro-doses of EPO over a stage race kept your hematocrit levels below 50 to beat the testers - and finally popping off to Valencia in a private jet with Lance and the boys to bank pints of blood in preparation for the 2000 Tour.

The science is nicely balanced with a little farce. The testers weren't just clueless about what was being taken and how - they weren't even catching people at home. Avoiding a surprise test by lying on the floor as the tester knocked on the door was an option, and that one tester would always innocently ring up a rider in Gerona the night before to make sure there were enough riders in the city to warrant him driving over next morning. Cue Carry On Doper scenes as riders still 'hot' with traces in their system hydrated furiously to flush out the traces of testosterone and EPO micro-doping overnight - or popped out on the bike in plain kit next morning, not to come back until after teatime.

Hamilton also recounts on one his shadowy trips to Spain - to bank blood with Dr Fuentes (of Operacion Puerto fame) - spotting Vinokourov sipping coffee in a cafe near the doctor's offices and the realisation that he and Vino are using the same dodgy doctor.

Of course this book is as much about Armstrong as Hamilton - and to his credit Hamilton holds up his hands for them both. When asked on 60 Minutes: "Why did you dope?" Hamilton replied: "What would you have done?"

What would any of us have done in that situation? It wasn't as if Armstrong could really have chosen to win clean in the climate of the those times - especially someone as competitive as Armstrong. He was a phenomenally aggressive and talented rider.

In a clean sport against a clean field of riders he may still have won a few Tours. Armstrong took the decision that he didn't beat cancer and re-train for the Tour de France just to lose clean to dopers. His own ego and the growing scope of his achievement took over from there.

Hamilton says: "Lance would sooner die than admit it, but being forced to tell the truth might be the best thing that ever happened to him."

I doubt Armstrong will ever come clean: having read this book I don't need him to any more.

A few people I've talked to since Armstrong was stripped of his titles by USADA in June have said: "Who cares? Let's move on." Armstrong has stated that he too is 'moving on'. The Secret Race moves us all on. It draws a line under the Armstrong era and reaffirms that doping hasn't gone away and it isn't going to stop evolving.

Pro cycling's growing success is only going to make the stakes higher. Let's hope the sport's governing body can employ the right people in future to oversee it, improve its testing to keep up with doping, and perhaps the sport can move on as well.

Verdict

Insightful, honest and compelling insider's account of doping in the pro-peloton.

road.cc test report

Make and model: The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at al Costs - Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle

Size tested: Hardback

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.

Would you consider buying the product? Definitely.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height:   Weight:

I usually ride: Dolan Prefissio - winter bike  My best bike is: Condor Moda Ti - summer bike

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, Dabble in Triathlon

 

13 comments

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Ghedebrav [1098 posts] 3 years ago
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A devastating, essential read. The prose is hardly Nabokov, but it's lucid and accessible. I got the audio version, which I recommend. Though obviously not for listening to while riding  3

Some of the grim details did make me feel a wee bit nauseous though, esp. anything to do with peeing blood post-transfusion. Ick.

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NeilG83 [283 posts] 3 years ago
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As much as I want to read this book and applaud Hamilton for coming clean I'm not sure I could ever bring myself to buy it. I think that Hamilton should not be able to profit from his cheating.

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julian1960 [14 posts] 3 years ago
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How do you " know " its honest?

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Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm guessing they'll be sticking a few excerpts from Addendum 1 to USADA'S Reasoned Decision on the cover of the next reprint…

"In September of 2012, some five (5) months after a two day interview with USADA representatives, Tyler Hamilton published a tell all autobiography titled The Secret Race which was co-authored by well known cycling journalist, Daniel Coyle. Several comments about this book are appropriately noted. First, USADA has found nothing in the book that is inconsistent with the account provided by Hamilton in the lengthy interview he gave to USADA five months earlier. Second, it is clear from the book that Hamilton pulled no punches in describing in detail his own doping practices. Moreover, many of the statements he made in the book concerning the doping practices of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes are corroborated by records from the Operation Puerto investigation. USADA concludes that Hamilton’s detailed account of Lance Armstrong’s doping is truthful, accurate and well corroborated."

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Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 3 years ago
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julian1960 wrote:

How do you " know " its honest?

USADA seem to think it's honest although I take your point I'm sure there are some who won't

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Ghedebrav [1098 posts] 3 years ago
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NeilG83 wrote:

As much as I want to read this book and applaud Hamilton for coming clean I'm not sure I could ever bring myself to buy it. I think that Hamilton should not be able to profit from his cheating.

Your choice, and I think I understand the sentiment, but I don't begrudge him the success of this book.

It's definitely worth a read though. Borrow it from a friend or, even better, get it from the library.

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pritchardbrown [25 posts] 3 years ago
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I found the book fascinating and it is the only one that really explains the mechanics of modern doping techniques. It also shows how far ahead USP were in this and how doping, even if everyone is doing it, does not result in a level playing field.
Is it honest? It appears to be. It is co-written by Daniel Coyle who checked the facts as far as he could, and, where he can verify them, they are true. An example is Lance's gardener following the 1999 tour on a moped with a supply of EPO in a thermos. According to Tyler he got so tired that he begged to stop after two weeks; so no EPO for Lance or Tyler in the last week. The frozen urine samples from 1999, re-tested in 2006, showed positive results for Lance from the first two weeks but not the last.
However, it is obvious that he was desperate to join the elite of USP - who had little white bags of drugs handed out at the end of a race. You can sense his elation when he finally became part of this select band. So, I understand the reluctance to allow him to profit from this. His self justification (I had no choice) also does not compare well with Vande Velde's statement yesterday, "I was wrong to think I didn’t had a choice – the fact is that I did, and I chose wrong."

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WolfieSmith [1244 posts] 3 years ago
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I haven't worked in an office for 12 years now but I remember having to put up and shut up to keep my job. There's a great deal of self righteous bleating on Twitter at the moment about 'making the right choices' from people who's understanding of human psychology extends only as far as putting the square peg in the square hole.  37

Throw together the basic human instinct for self preservation against a system you can't beat on your own, that is possibly colluded with by the body that's supposed to be over seeing it - and add the years you've put into getting to the heights of a sport you love. Most people can empathise with that.

Pissed off with Tyler making a profit? Wait until Armstrong brings out his own weeping an a wailing book about the wholesome American boy led astray by rotten European sporting standards..

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fatbeggaronabike [755 posts] 3 years ago
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MercuryOne wrote:

Wait until Armstrong brings out his own weeping an a wailing book about the wholesome American boy led astray by rotten European sporting standards..

He wouldn't do something like that would he?  13

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crazy-legs [703 posts] 3 years ago
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julian1960 wrote:

How do you " know " its honest?

It's co-written by cycling author Daniel Coyle.
He's got a very thorough cross-referencing built into it and the foreword by him makes it clear that it's not just Hamilton writing what he wants - it was a long process of interviews and writing to get the book to publication stage. Pretty much everything of what Hamilton says has been cross-referenced with other riders, public knowledge of where LA was at the time, it's a meticulously researched bit of work.

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notfastenough [3661 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm assuming that the reviewed copy is the UK version. My understanding is that some content was redacted for us due to different libel laws - now that just makes me want to read the uncensored US version. Anyone know how much difference there is?

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hairyairey [296 posts] 3 years ago
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Redacted in the UK? So we get not quite the truth, or perhaps this is because the allegations really are libellous? I would presume that being an admitted liar would ruin his credibility as a witness so therefore no chance of succesfully defending a libel claim. What a mess.

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Colin Peyresourde [1636 posts] 3 years ago
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It's a great book. I still note resistance to the contents of this book and the USADA findings. If you want to still claim Lance is innocent I suggest you read both David Miller's book 'Riding through the dark' and this one to give yourself a rounded picture of cycling. To help you understand the culture and the reality, rather than sticking to Lance's played out lies.

If you do you read Miller's book there is a rather telling paragraph on Miller's meeting with Armstrong after his final tour win which is illuminating.