The Secret Race - Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle £18.99
Insightful, honest and compelling insider's account of doping in the pro-peloton
Weight 100g Contact Online stores and all good bookshops
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.
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.
About the tester
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