“The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France” by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Cycling, performance enhancing drugs, memoir
September 5, 2012
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
The rise and fall of Lance Armstrong was a spectacular story on both ends. The doping scandal that was rampant in the sport of cycling ensnared not only Armstrong, but many of his teammates and competitors. One of those cyclists, Tyler Hamilton, shares his story about his time in the sport and with Armstrong (called “Lance” throughout the book, not “Armstrong) in this outstanding memoir, co-written with Daniel Coyle.
What especially struck me about the book was Hamilton’s attention to every detail about the doping that goes on in cycling. Not just the substances used, but the nicknames given, the undercover nature of communication between athletes and doctors, the methods of taking the drugs and the benefits a cyclists gets during the races. Whether it was Hamilton’s description of taking “Edgar” (Erythropoietin), the details of his “BBs” (blood bags) when getting a transfusion of his own blood, or the conversations between racers on the trail, this is a book that is a page-turner, no matter what the reader’s level of interest may be in the sport of cycling.
The stories of how racers would either avoid or outsmart the drug testers read like spy novels. This level of deceit, lies and evasion could only be told by someone who lived this type of life and Hamilton does it well. This is true when not only talking about his own doping, but also that of Armstrong and other Postal team members. He at times seemed in awe of Armstrong (before Lance’s eventual downfall) because he was always able to find a way to talk his way out of a tough situation.
Hamilton’s story itself is also very interesting, with his own climb from riding for various smaller teams to getting a spot in the prestigious US Postal team, the one that Armstrong raced for during his record stretch of Tour de France wins, wins that have since been stricken from records. Hamilton himself has had the same thing happen to him with his 2004 Olympic gold medal in doubt because of a positive drug test. While relieved he was able to keep his medal when the validity of the second positive test could not be verified, he eventually came clean on his doping.
If a reader wants to learn about the actual sport, this book is a great source to do so. Hamilton’s description of the riders who have to set the pace for the leaders, those who ride in packs or those who have to keep pace with the lead cyclist so that leader can maintain the speed he needs to keep the lead, is full of details that make a reader feel like he or she is on the bike.
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the doping scandals in the sport of cycling or learn about the story of this Olympic champion whose personal and professional life took many drastic turns. Be forewarned – once you pick up the book, you will not want to put it down.
Book Format Read: