Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Book review - The secret race by Tyler Hamilton

The secret race : inside the hidden world of The Tour De France : doping, cover-ups, and winning at all costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

New York : Bantam Books, 2012    ISBN 9780345530431

What an apt time for this book to finally turn up for me at my local library - the very day that the USADA "reasoned decision" was released to the world, outlining in hitherto unparalleled detail the fantastic, detailed, and highly organised doping engaged in by Lance Armstrong and his team over a number of years.

Tyler Hamilton was part of Lance's team for some of the glory years, and The secret race is a devastating record of the deception that occurred during this time. What Hamilton also makes clear is that it was not only Lance and the US Postal Team engaging in this practice, although they may have been the most organised and successful.

Tyler spends a short amount of time on his early years, but very soon the reader is with him on his first jaunt to Europe, where he soon realises that not everyone on his team is equal - some riders are getting "lunch bags" at the end of each race. Tyler is clear that the initiation of riders into the world of doping was actually seen by most young tyros as a sign of acceptance, that the team thought they were worth the effort and expense. It also becomes clear that as a 20-something who is so close to their dream, being advised by their seniors that what they are doing is not wrong, and that it will help them get to the top, they are placed in a very invidious position.

Another thing that becomes clear is that the Cycling authorities hardly seemed interested in stamping out any nefarious activity, merely setting maximum levels of blood hematocrit, which was pretty much seen by the peleton as permission to dope, but not to go crazy.

Of course, there is quite a bit about Lance in the book - devastating stuff, blowing the lid on any pretence that Lance was somehow above doping, and pointing out the dark side of Lance's character - vindictive, bullying and lacking empathy.

Hamilton portrays a world focussed on numbers - not as you may think, times, but levels of hematocrit, testosterone or cortisone in the blood. He describes how easy it was to avoid being caught, and how in fact most of the peleton considered those that did as stupid.

He also describes how living the secret life of a doper eventually takes its toll, for Tyler destroying his marriage, and contributing to his ongoing battle with depression.

While he is certainly no white knight, being dragged to his confessions, he has played an important part in bringing this era of cycling to light, and hopefully clearing up the cesspit of modern cycling.

If you are interested in the world of cycling, this book is probably a must-read. Thankfully, it is also actually quite readable.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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