Published by Bantam on 2 September 2012
Source: Borrowed from friend
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Tyler Hamilton was once one of the world’s best-liked and top-ranked cyclists—a fierce competitor renowned among his peers for his uncanny endurance and epic tolerance for pain. In the 2003 Tour de France, he finished fourth despite breaking his collarbone in the early stages—and grinding eleven of his teeth down to the nerves along the way. He started his career with the U.S. Postal Service team in the 1990s and quickly rose to become Lance Armstrong’s most trusted lieutenant, and a member of his inner circle. For the first three of Armstrong’s record seven Tour de France victories, Hamilton was by Armstrong’s side, clearing his way. But just weeks after Hamilton reached his own personal pinnacle—winning the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics—his career came to a sudden, ignominious end: He was found guilty of doping and exiled from the sport.
The Secret Race was lent to me by my very good friend Colleen while we were in Paris to watch the arrival of the Tour de France on Champs Elysées this past July. And I couldn’t put it down! Tyler Hamilton goes all the way, he explains how he started doping, with the team-director’s and some of his team-mates’ blessings, but he never tries to shift the blame on anyone but himself. Co-written with Daniel Coyle, it almost seems like a confessional, and I think it is much-needed, if the cylcists and the sport is to ever be saved.
As I have been following the Tour de France for a long time, and have been disappointed by all the doping scandals these past years, I was very happy to read The Secret Race for several reasons. I have long thought that a lot more of the cyclists than those who have been officially caught were trying to enhance their power and prodigy, and even if it is sad that this is true, it also explains a lot about this sport.
Tyler and other cyclists lost everything they have worked hard for after being found out, and lying about it at first. The Secret Race shows how there was almost like a secret society within the international cycling peloton, with different words to describe what kind of doping they were doing. And the secret was mostly a secret to the public, the insiders must have known for a long time what has been going on for ages.
One of the things I really appreciated while reading The Secret Race is that even those who did use some kind of doping (and those who still do) had to work very hard to be in the top few of cycling. There really is no easy way to get to the top, hard work, hard training, discipline, and the right food is still needed. What is really scary is that some of the doctors involved with the cyclists were in it for the money, and they did not take their oath very seriously. Both Tyler and other cyclists could have died after getting bad blood, but even then, they were ready to continue – with only one goal in sight – win a stage of the Tour de France, or a smaller tour and to be competitive even among their own team-mates.
Seeing how many people were involved just to get the drugs or blood out to the cyclists while they were on a tour truly shows the level of knowledge even the tour directors must have had. My husband read The Secret Race in French, and we agree about one thing, the cyclists are totally being used. They are the modern ‘sandwich men’ who earn money for companies by showing off brands while cycling miles and miles up-hill every day. And I think the only way to rid the cycling sport of the doping is to make sure the stages are shortened, and that there will be fewer mountain stages (or just up-hill miles per stage) during the tour. And maybe a few more days off as well.
While it is disconcerting to read about a sport that is so cluttered by unhealthy drugs – because isn’t sports supposed to be healthy? – it is also very liberating to read a tell-all book that truly tells it all. I believe it takes extreme courage to go against the stream and dare to lay down everything and share all the gritty details with the public; both the fans and the detractors as it were.
If you are interested in sports in general or cycling in particular, I can only recommend that you read The Secret Race – it is a startling true story, and one that is filled with both beautiful, sad and truly scary moments.
“I discovered when I went all out, when I put 100 percent of my energy into some intense, impossible task – when my heart was jack-hammering, when lactic acid was sizzling through my muscles – that’s when I felt good, normal, balanced.”
“People think doping is for lazy people who want to avoid hard work. That might be true in some cases, but in mine, as with many riders I knew, it was precisely the opposite. EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing.”