What I Read: The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton
As a long-term cycling fan, The Secret Race has been a book I’ve meant to read for months but also a book I have also avoided in an attempt not to further my disillusionment for a sport which I loved watching during my college years. One of my high points of my mountain biking club’s annual trip to the French Alps was the day we would ride up part of the ascent from Morzine to Avoriaz on the way up to some cross-country trails in the next valley. The lactic acid would burn in my legs but I always felt like I finally had a glimpse of the suffering experienced by the best cyclists in the world.
The funny thing is that it is due to one of those Alpine trips that I turned into a cynic about the world of professional road cycling. A clumsy trip down some steps in the last days of a fortnight long mountain biking trip resulted in a compressed T7 vertebrae, cracked ribs and 2 months off work. To fill my time up, friends loaned me books on all sorts of topics, including Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride.
While I knew there was doping within professional cycling, Rough Ride opened my eyes to how endemic it was within the peloton during Kimmage’s cycling career and of course, caused me to question the credibility of many cyclists’ hero, Lance Armstrong. I followed the story of Armstrong and the doping allegations made by investigative journalist David Walsh and former teammate Floyd Landis, and always wondered whether the truth would ever come out.
When I eventually read The Secret Race, it became apparent that doping was highly organised and well-researched by professional cycling teams, and was promoted as the only way to make it in the cycling world. Furthermore, the UCI were complicit in the continuation of doping within cycling as they ignored several incidents of missed tests and tests which were positive for testosterone, EPO or blood doping in return for donations or neatly explained away with a retroactive prescription.
With a particular view on Armstrong’s actions during his seven years winning the Tour, Hamilton’s account of his time with US Postal indicts Armstrong not just for cheating but for bullying cyclists out of the team for refusing to dope and introducing several cyclists in US Postal to various doping methods and unethical doctors like Dr. Michele Ferrari. Even then, the manipulative and aggressive tactics Armstrong used to undermine and intimidate anyone who accused him of doping or who could prove the allegations were outlined, and haven watched several Armstrong interviews about doping, certain moments when these tactics were used stick out in my memory.
Overall, The Secret Race is a fascinating read for any sports fan. The book itself is really well written and fast paced, with any necessary scientific information explained in a concise manner. Even if you are not a sports fan, this is a must-read if you have ever wondered how someone can get away with cheating or why a sports hero would consider something so damaging to their career and reputation.
With a final note on Armstrong, I am glad Hamilton and the many other people who have risked their credibility in going up against Armstrong with allegations and evidence of doping have been vindicated by his eventual and long overdue confession.