on September 7, 2012
This is the most devastating chronicle yet of the recent history of pro bike racing, for several reasons:
- First, the co-author, Daniel Coyle, knows his way around pro bike racing. He wrote Lance Armstrong's War: One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France, and his experience shows. More than just a story about Hamilton, "The Secret Race" weaves in all the significant doping scandals of the past 15 years. Although the publicity surrounding this book is driven by the interest in Lance Armstrong, the book exposes a sport-wide culture where doping was expected and the infrastructure to support it was easily accessible to the best riders.
- Second, the level of prosaic detail adds credibility. It's more than just a chronicle of what drugs were taken -- but also detail on how they worked; how they were concealed; how tests were beaten; the logistics of getting to and from the doping doctors; and the strategy of timing blood doping sessions to correspond with key stages of big races. Hamilton even details the bonus schedule he paid to his doping doctors for each major victory. Although I've read previous books on the topic, I was still surprised by the intensity of doping activities outlined here. It's the difference between having the story told by "outsiders" (investigators, journalists, team assistants) vs. "insiders" (someone like Hamilton who is finally willing to tell the story).
- Third, Hamilton's own personal story is believable. He helps explain why bike racers decide to dope, why lying about it becomes so central to their day to day lives, and what it takes to turn the corner and start telling the truth. The co-author's key challenge in this book is to make the reader accept the story of someone who lied for so long, and inevitably we have to wonder, "He lied then, is he telling the truth now?" The context provided here allows the reader to make that leap.
Two other individuals are worth mentioning. The first is David Walsh, the London Times journalist who wrote, From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, which outlined way back in 2007 what was happening inside pro racing during the "Lance Armstrong era." None of the recent doping scandals has been a real surprise to anyone who read Walsh's book. "The Secret Race" has a lot more detail, since it's told by a true insider, but without David Walsh, Paul Kimmage and a few others continuing to tell this story the facts likely would have never come out (One thing that's clear from "The Secret Race" is that the sport's governing body, the UCI, was never going to blow the whistle on itself).
[Nov. 2012 update: David Walsh's stories that laid out the original allegations against Lance Armstrong have just been released in a Kindle edition, Lanced: The shaming of Lance Armstrong, and coming soon is his new e-book, Seven Deadly Sins ]
The second person to mention is Andy Hampsten, another American cycling hero whose 1988 ride in the Tour of Italy is still legendary. Hampsten was competing at the top level of international cycling before the EPO era but then found himself out-muscled by back-of-the-pack competitors who suddenly transformed themselves, turbocharged by EPO and blood transfusions. For anyone who thinks that it's OK to excuse continuing coverups because "it was a level playing field; they all doped," it's worth reading Andy Hampsten's quotes:
"In the mid eighties, when I came up, riders were doping but it was still possible to compete with them...bottom line, a clean rider could compete in the big three-week races. EPO changed everything...all of a sudden whole teams were ragingly fast, all of a sudden I was struggling to make time limits. By 1994, I'd be on climbs, working as hard as I've ever worked, producing exactly the same power, at the same weight, and right alongside me would be these big-assed guys, and they'd be chatting like were were on the flats! It was completely crazy. As the 1996 season went by...everybody knew what was up, everybody was talking about EPO, everybody could see the writing on the wall."
Hampsten retired from pro bike racing at that time. Other racers made a different decision, and signed up for in-depth doping regimes; their story is told here. To believe that anyone raced clean and then won the Tour de France 7 times in a row at the height of the doping era seems to defy reality. To use a term repeated often in "The Secret Race," it would have to be "extraterrestrial."
on September 6, 2012
Normally I don't write these reviews, but this was such a compelling read in light of the events that have been unfolding. Tyler Hamilton, who I admired for his ability to push through pain. Tyler Hamilton, who I lost every ounce of respect for after he lied about doping and then admitted to it. Tyler Hamilton, who I started to see not as an athlete who cheated, but as a human being who I eventually began to understand and sympathize, and a newfound sympathy for his plight and struggle. Here is a man who I no longer see as a "bad person", but someone who came to a series of life changing decisions and forks in the path, and were I to be put in his shoes, I would probably have done exactly the same things. Looking back at the many years of cycling, I realized I blindly refused to believe that the greatest hero in sports would ever guilty of a crime, and that the world was simply trying to bring him down for his successes, and I, like many others, grouped the LeMonde, Le Mondes, Ballasters, and the Andreaus as bitter people trying to destroy a great champion. This book reveals so much detail to a point where you kick yourself for being so oblivious and ignorant of the existence of such a massive, organized underworld. This book will be a game changer.
on September 6, 2012
I was eager to read this book after all the drama over the past several years. The story is well written and compelling for anyone who followed professional cycling during the Armstrong era. I encourage anyone with questions about who is telling the truth in the Greek Tragedy that is Lance Armstrong's life to read this book and draw your own conclusions.
I was a fan of Lance's since he won the World Championship in 1993. I was in Paris when he won in 1999 and when he finished 3rd in 2009. I believed in Lance and his inspirational story for years and thought all the critics were simply "haters". This book convinces me that the story of Lance Armstrong is as believable as a children's fairy tale.
Tyler does not come across as vindictive, angry, or irrational. Rather, he strikes me as a regular guy who played the game by the rules in place at the time. Tyler did what almost everyone else was doing -- transfusions, testosterone, EPO -- but ended up getting caught when his doping sources screwed up and mixed up his blood bags with those of other riders.
Lance was not physiologically better than anyone else - his claim to genetic physical superiority was part of a well crafted myth. The difference is Lance had a story-book narrative that appealed to the general public and therefore sponsors and industry hacks. Protection from within the UCI sounds ridiculous - which is what Lance counted on - people would never believe such a thing and anyone who said so must be crazy/drunk/angry. Read the book and then decide.
on September 12, 2012
Strongly recommend. Well-written and well documented. The specifics of the how, when and where of the all-encompassing doping program at the US Postal Cycling team make for very interesting reading. Entirely believable. The book is filled with extended quotes from other Postal riders, Landis, VandeVelde, Vaughters, Andreu, confirming portions of Hamilton's account. What strikes me is how pervasive the ethic of doping was throughout the Peloton. Literally everyone who was competitive in the mid-1990s to 2006 (and anyone on a competitive team) had to be on some kind of program -- whether EPO, transfusions, testosterone or something else. And everyone knew about it -- all the team members, all the staff, all the spouses/girlfriends -- including Hamilton's ex Haven and by implication Kristin Armstrong. [The only wife who was intolerant was the brave and principled Betsy Andreu.] The UCI repeatedly turned a blind eye, whether because of outright corruption (promised payments by Armstrong after a positive test at the Tour of Switzerland) or because of the need for the public perception of a "clean" sport. Therefore unwritten rules governed the ethic of doping within the Peloton. The testers would only show up at certain times. Don't get caught with a hematocrit over 50 and regardless of how suspicious, there would be no violation. As Hamilton says, the dope testing regime became more of an IQ test than a doping test. If you were clever, had the right doctor, or had enough money to cover the logistics of a sophisticated doping program, you would likely not get caught. (transfusing, storing and reinfusing blood before and during the course of the Tour without the blood "going bad" was a complicated process--with life threatening consequences if there was a mistake). And Armstrong and the Postal/Discovery squad had the best doctors (Ferrari), the most money, and the best logistics. As Hamilton says, the mistake the former Postal riders made when they left the team was thinking that they could easily find an equally effective replacement program. Once they left, they usually made a mistake of some kind - -hence Heras being caught, Landis, and Hamilton. Hamilton hypothesizes that his Spanish doping doctor Fuentes mixed up Hamilton's blood bags with those of another rider and that is why Hamilton tested positive for someone else's blood in his system. The book does make one sympathetic for the circumstances under which riders (almost every one) made the decision to dope.
It does not make one sympathetic to Armstrong. To the contrary--Armstrong comes across as a vindictive narcissist. Rather than merely defending himself, he has to threaten and attempt to destroy anyone who mentions the truth -- hence his attacks on Betsey Andreu, Hamilton himself, Landis, and scores of journalists. [after first having encouraged Landis to deny doping after Landis' positive test, Armstrong then emphasized Landis' initial denials of doping to publicly proclaim that Landis lacks credibility]. But perhaps the most damning condemnation of Armstrong is that his urge to win and to destroy was so great, that he felt the need to inform on riders who were achieving independent success (and thereby threatening Lance's domination). By 2004, Hamilton had left Postal and then CSC and joined Phonak (while maintaining his own doping program). In the Dauphine Libere that year, Hamilton beat Lance in the Mont Ventoux time trial by a lot. Soon after, Hamilton got a call asking that he visit the UCI headquarters in Switzerland. There he was told that his blood values were suspicious and the UCI would be watching him. According to Floyd Landis, Armstrong had dropped the dime on Hamilton. Armstrong simply could not conceive that with a level playing field (everybody doping), he could lose a race. So Hamilton must be doing something very different and must be stopped.
Anyway--a great and sobering read. It generates some sympathy for the dopers. It generates contempt for Armstrong. A liar and a bully with unlimited drive, significant wealth and few scruples can go very far in this world. Armstrong was the enforcer of the Peloton, the best and most sophisticated doping practitioner with the most resources and most cutting-edge techniques. He also had the most to lose if caught and therefore fought the hardest and destroyed the most people in perpetuating the fantasy of his supposedly dope-free seven Tour wins. Had Armstrong been revealed as a fraud earlier, any number of clean riders might otherwise have seen success. Who knows how many did not receive contracts or lost sponsors because they declined to participate in the institutionalized doping system that the US Postal Team had perfected under Lance Armstrong's leadership.
on September 7, 2012
I could not put this book down. I don't think that I have ever reviewed a book on Amazon before, but I feel that I had to write one for this particular book since I have loved the sport of cycling for many years - even now. I appreciate the tone of this book, which is one of simply telling a story. There is nothing in the story that says, "You have to believe what I am writing!" It is simply forthright. It does not indict anyone except to expose a culture that existed and of course that implicates certain cyclists who were part of the doping culture. It is a story that is consistent with what Jonathan Vaughters has tried to explain in various ways over the years - the first thing to do is to tell riders that they don't have to make the choice to dope - I now get why he puts it that way. It is tempting, I suppose, for people who are anti-Hamilton or anti-Armstrong to try to devise motives for why the story should be believed or why it should not be, respectively. However, I would urge a reader to leave those thoughts aside while reading and then make an assessment of what he/she has just read after finishing the book.
The book is a very easy read, even if the subject matter is tragic. You will learn about the extent of the corruption in cycling and that it goes all the way up to the UCI. I for one can understand how easy it is, or at least was to make the choice to dope, and that once the choice is made to dope, you eventually create a complete rationalization for why you do it. One other thing: this story is not about Lance Armstrong. Of course he is a figure in the story and the book does not help him with his continued denial that he doped. This story is about a culture of doping and the cost to a particular rider - a gold medal, his marriage, his credibility, etc. I think that Tyler Hamilton's story should give one faith that it is possible to begin the hard work of redeeming oneself after making so many mistakes.
on September 7, 2012
I just finished reading the secret race and I have to say if you are a fan of professional cycling, then you need to read this book. I wasn't shocked about Tyler's revelations as much, since after racing as an amateur during the 90's, I pretty much suspected most of the peloton was taking drugs.
I was also a staunch believer that the racers weren't doing it to gain an unfair advantage, as they were just trying to compete. Tyler's book sheds light on that point of view so that you see it wasn't by greed or the need to win that these guys took extreme, unhealthy measures, but rather they did it just to keep their jobs. The notable exception being Lance A.
I wish drugs never entered the sport. I wish with all of my heart that Tyler rode the tour with a broken collarbone clean, and that Floyd saved his tour with a clean, folklore style ride, and I wish that Lance won 7 tours clean, but all my heros of the day, and all that they did was partially plastic.
My now 8 year old son who knows all the top pro riders names and loves bikes, is asking me why Lance is losing his titles and I don,t know what to say to him. That is the worst part for my family. By Tyler coming forward and explaining things in a simple and honest way, it makes it harder for others to dope, knowing what their life may be like even if they get away with it. If my son becomes a pro cyclist, I pray that doping will be impossible or on the fringe when he grows up. Books like this are an education for the future of the sport. The drug experiments of the 60's didn't work out, and now the doping experiments of the 90's will also hopefully fall to the wayside.
Tyler, I thank you for giving me a clear picture of what actually happened. Hidden lies continue to leak poison, and by telling all, you have provided the antidote. Be proud of what you have done. In time, I will give your book to my son to read so that he learns from the mistakes of this era of cycling. I'm mostly sorry that you and all the other pros of our day were caught up in this vacuum of unrealistic expectations.
on September 7, 2012
If you're a cycling enthusiast, what you read in this book will not be overly surprising. What this book does though is explain how the art of performance enhancing infiltrated the sport, and the reasoning behind the athletes decision to be part of this secretive side of the sport. A big thanks to Hamilton, Coyle, and all of the professional cyclists that shared their stories of this era, and explained their position on the doping scene, and the impact it has made on their lives.
on September 5, 2012
I have not had any respect for Tyler Hamilton prior to this, but I do have to say this is a well written and eye-opening book. There is so much detail, it is almost inconceivable he could be making this all up- especially as the stories are all starting to come out in the open from other parties as well. Also, his co-author is a much respected journalist, who claims rigorous independent fact checking.
I think Tyler could earn back some respect (as well as silence any detractors who say he's just trying to cash in here) by publicly committing to donate 100% of his profits from this book to the fight against cancer. Hah- wouldn't that send a bee up Lance's bonnet!
Over the years I never wanted to believe Lance was a doper too. As he was for millions, he has always been one of my heroes. But also over time, there has just been too much evidence pointing the other way, that my opinion has sadly changed. This book fills in a lot of the details and is a good read. I'm very disheartened to see this all go down like it is.
Anyway, whichever side of the Lance doping saga you are on, and whether you think Tyler was a despicable scum too, his book is worth reading. It is a fascinating deep dive into the dirty underbelly of pro cycling. The various descriptions of all the covert blood bag ("BB"s in Tyler's lingo) transfusions were positively creepy! We've heard about all this before, but never in such gory detail. Previous news reports on such things were vague enough we could delude ourselves and pretend it wasn't that big a deal in the pro peloton. Of course, like in many other pro sports, it was. The pressure to win and the money riding on the outcome, meant that cheating was/(is?) almost inevitable in pro cycling- especially given the ineffective testing standards of the day. Here, Tyler lays it all out for all to see exactly how it was done.
Major League Baseball ignored it for decades, and of course so did/(does?) pro cycling. As an avid cyclist and a pro tour fan, I am disgusted and have been for years. It makes me less of a fan, less likely to watch, and certainly less likely to buy the sponsored products of teams that have dopers.
I can't blame the athletes 100% though. They ultimately own the decision of what to put or not put in their own bodies of course, but I think many otherwise decent athletes were left with a Hobson's Choice of either cheating too or ending their careers when they can't otherwise compete. I put Hamilton in that category. Lance too for that matter. It was (is?) a systemic problem. The blame falls on the teams themselves much more than the riders. The director sportives, owners and sponsors, the Pro Tour organizations and the UCI all carry the lion's share of the blame. I hope they finally start to really reform the system, for until they do, we the fans continue to lose, as whole decades of sporting accomplishments are forever tainted and wiped out.
Buy the book! Then decide for yourself who to believe.
on September 21, 2012
I became an "addicted" Tour de France fan in the early 90's as Miguel Indurain was dominating the sport and Greg LeMond was riding his last tours. I remember the days when you got 30 minutes of coverage from ESPN and ESPN2 if you programmed your VCR correctly to go on in the middle of the night. I was full of pride and nearly cried the day that Lance dominated the stage after the death of his teammate in the 1995 tour. Since the advent of the DVR, OLN, and VS I have watched every stage of every Tour. For me July is like watching the Superbowl every day for 3 weeks. And as my passion for the TdF was growing, along came Lance winning 7 straight Tours and after nearly dying from cancer - unbelievable and awe-inspiring! It made me proud to be an American and a cycling fan. With that said I will say that I was and am, first and foremost, a cycling fan who likes to watch great races and cheer for amazing riders like Lance and others.
Up to this year I still had all the explanations (you've heard them before) for how Lance was being victimized and attacked for his successes etc. I wanted to believe, I did believe. No more! Tyler Hamilton (whom I have held in contempt for some time) was the guy that brought me to reality. His book is well written, gets to the point, and makes a massively compelling case that it represents the truth about cycling and Lance Armstrong in the era that I have been a fan. It is sad but undeniable. Unfortunately the discourse on this topic has become about as productive as a debate between lifelong republicans and democrats on the merits of a given presidential candidate - minds are made up and no one listens. I am however now a convert.
I always felt that, while I admired Lance's accomplishments, he was not a guy that I would want to spend much time with - he seemed like he was a real jerk. Now I can say that I personally see him for what he is (in addition to a talented athlete) - a narcissistic megalomaniac that would stop at nothing in the pursuit of his own advancement. He believed he was untouchable and in most ways he has been. He conducted himself just like a Mafia Don - you were part of the inner circle so long as you were useful to his personal cause and did as you were told (or should we say permitted) and the minute you were no longer useful, or worse a threat, you no longer existed - you got "wacked". Accuse him of cheating and you got slapped with a lawsuit and, using the trusted Mafia tactic, personally attack the messenger, their motives and character. Threaten his leadership on the team or beat him in a training ride and you were ostracized. He took little joy in his teammates successes and only gave them accolades when their efforts put him on the top step of a podium. He is a first class bully as The Secret Race points out repeatedly.
Lance is like Steve Jobs in that he has a binary rating system -something (or someone) is either the greatest or is (they're) the worst. No room for gray areas. Like Jobs he is a great and tragic figure with a powerful "reality distortion field" who has had a tremendous impact on the world. However, it is inconceivable to me that anyone could read Hamilton's account and come away believing anything Lance says on the matter of his cheating and doping. Hamilton elegantly constructs a portrait that makes it very clear that Lance is in that situation from the Seinfeld episode - "A must lie situation" and he can't back down. For this reason alone this book is must reading for anyone with an emotional investment in the sport over the past 15 years.
on September 11, 2012
This is what it feels like, to learn there is no Santa.
That he was a ruse. Made up. Something fun and stimulating to look forward to, but never existed in the first place.
That's what reading The Secret Race feels like for me, a cycling fan. Oh, sure. I knew. I knew there were drugs in the sport I love. I believed Lance probably cheated. EPO was in the peloton, blood doping happened. But I bought the tag line, the marketing refrain: But now, it's cleaner than it's ever been. We've turned a corner!
Heck, I'd seen Hamilton on 60 Minutes. I'd religiously read the reports of the federal, then the USADA investigations of Armstrong.
I knew what was coming.
But until you read it, the details, the extent, the pressure, the fear, the depression of it all, you can still sort of distance yourself from reality. That it's not so bad. That the peloton gets cleaner each year. It's not every single guy. Can't be.
The truth? The UCI throws a few sacrificial riders on the alter of testing each year, and the game rolls on, as dirty and doped as it ever was. But the UCI can claim: The cheaters have been caught and everyone else is clean!
Then, even this year, Frank Schleck tests positive at the TdF. Frank!?
I can no longer, after reading this book, even begin to give riders, cleared by the test or not, any benefit of my doubt. I can no longer believe the UCI. And certainly, I cannot believe Lance Armstrong or his people (which is a shame, for I'm convinced that his foundation does do good in this world - but does it exist as a PR machine for Armstrong the person, or is it Armstrong's conscience seeking to balance the scale of justice to the good, after he's done so much personally to tip the scale to the bad?).
What has been read cannot be unread. The Secret Race is believable. Personal. Touching. And, as likely to be true as the peloton is likely to be lying. Still. Again.
It'll open up not just a fan's old wounds, but open new ones. After you read between the lines, you'll ask yourself: Was Sky really clean this year? Look how far Cadel fell off from last year -- was he riding on bread and water whereas last year, he was doped? Contador ate a bad steak two years ago, really? What of the new talent, the kid, Peter Sagan - him, too? What about my longtime favorites, like George (in the book), Jens (in the book) and Chris (not in the book)? They had to be doped all these years - are they still? How can these guys be 40 and still elite?
Look how Vaughters came out in the NYT, outing himself. And then, his current riders. Now we're to believe Garmin is clean?
Where does it stop? When did it stop? Did it ever?
Read this book, and be prepared to start asking these questions yourself. Or don't read it, and enjoy the sport a whole lot more. For me, I'm glad I read it. The truth didn't set me free. But it did free me from misconceptions. And I'll never watch a bike race the same way ever again.