Posted by: Ele Quigan | January 5, 2013

The Secret Race – Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs

The Secret RaceCycling. Yep I can do it, pedalling, sure – easy! I used to cycle to work last year, and really enjoyed it – except for the fact that I was pretty much racing myself to work everyday.

The problems was I downloaded an app that essentially measured my speed – to use the most annoying term of 2012 – and ‘Gamified’ my experience. So essentially I was trying to beat my time whenever I got on the bike. It got addictive. It got dangerous. Sure I ran a couple of reds occasionally – my other half does it, it’s FINE (no, it’s not) Yeah I used to swear at other cyclists and my god if you get in front of me on your super slow heavy dutch bike and proceed to bike slowly with your iPhone headphones in – I’m genuinely going to struggle not to punch you as I cycle past.

So yeah – I developed a little bit of a problem. And I was only cycling a tiny way (6.8km) and with red lights and massive amounts of cycle traffic everyday pretty much the whole way I was still managing to get to work in under 19 minutes occasionally… For me it was exhilarating. My max speed? 38km. How many times did I do it? less than 20. Because I realised that if I kept at it I’d probably end up totally mangled at best, and dead at worst.

But my point is – I feel that in this tiny bit of racing myself that I did – I got a glimspe, no an iota? at least the tiniest tiniest bit of something that made me realise after reading this book how addictive cycling racing can be, and that you can get addicted (in a sense) to winning.

I used to love Lance Armstrong. I thought he was the most awesome, inspiring, incredible athlete ever. I’d seen him on TV, read his books, become a total Lance Armstrong evangelist. When mumblings started about the tour (and given my lack of real interest in competitive cycling beyond ‘ooo look France is so damn pretty’) some how he was exempt! He’d had CANCER! That’s why he can push his body harder. Or when more people were talking, getting charged, getting in trouble, ‘Everyone was doing it, he wasn’t ever doing it so much’ – and then earlier this year my whole view of Lance started to crumble.

I guess it’s a similar thought process for most people? I remember to asking a friend of mine in NY what he thought – and while I can’t remember his word for word response I remember being surprised at the vehemence of what he said. Definitely a cheat. Biggest cheat in the tour?!

It wasn’t till the full breakdown came out that I snapped into reality – and like the rest of the world, was saddened, then horrified, and then disgusted at the level of cheating throughout the Peleton – and the worst bit – that he has never, to this day, admitted that he cheated.

Tyler’s book made me realise that this commercially sensitive guy knew exactly what he was doing the whole time. Money is power, and power gives the ability to win above all others. Amongst all the sponsor money, and the prize money, the bonuses (which potentially are going to court) all he ever wanted to do was win.

So the book – it made me so sad. What pressure to do things that don’t make you proud of who you are – to push yourself through the pain barrier to a place your body shouldn’t go to, to have to be so careful around when you dope, what time, what people are going to be around. To hide your drugs in what looks like an old sandwich wrapped up in tinfoil because you’re afraid someone will find them. Lying to your family, lying to yourself, but not lying to your wife, but she’s sucked into it as much as you are.

There is no doubt in my mind that Tyler is a good cyclist. Seriously, anyone who cycles post a crash and grinds all his teeth to the bone (I’m not exaggerating) – to push through the pain barrier of that is a phenomenal human being let alone sportsman. And racing within a team that wanted to win at all costs, he was still keeping up. I can understand in a sense how Tyler gives you the feeling you have no choice. If you’re near to the top of your game, and you get an in or out option – you have to be some kind of moral superhuman to choose out. Tyler, not that you’re reading this, but I would have made the same choices. And all I was doing that’s convinced me of this is cycling to work , not for my career.

The book doesn’t come off as a pity party. It’s not ‘Why me’ and it’s also not entirely about Lance Armstrong. Tyler cycled in other teams, was tested positive, discussed drugging regimes with other cyclists. His career has been in tatters – yet I guess that’s my question is why was Lance believed beyond all odds given he has tested positive but was covered up but the International Cycling federation UCI. Why else for the $$ in donations – for a Blood testing machine even! Of course my gut says it’s down to money. It made cycling a sport with US interest (and therefore US sponsorship $$) and tourism of course – I didn’t know there was a tour of Italy, tour of Valencia or even tour of Switzerland (it’s like F1, but for cycling) until I read this book – there must be several reasons why I’d only heard of the Tour de France – money always comes back as the mitigating factor.

A few race stages are mentioned throughout the book as ‘proof’ of Lance’s drug taking. Once of which is this 99 mountain stage (Lance was never a mountain cyclist) I actually haven’t watched the entire video, but the title “1999 Tour de France Stage 9 Sestrières Dopage?” just about says enough for me. But have you seen what Lance has been up to lately? Oh just winning the odd Ironman event…

So after reading this – are there still questions? Of course there are. But my big question is Lance – why keep telling everyone you’re telling the truth? And again, Tyler, so many people have probably come out and said how brave you are, how honest the book is – which is all true. I only hope that you get some sense of relief with the truth out – carrying such a weight of a lie for so long must have been incredibly difficult.

This book was fantastic. Read it. Doping in the Peleton has been around for over a hundred years. I’m not joking, the first case was in 1886. While it became a right of passage of cycling through the 80’s and 90’s – and as such it’s still an arms race out there – I don’t necessarily believe that cycling is now ‘clean’ – however I do hope that they consider what they are doing and the effect it has on people who follow the sport. They just become so disappointed and disillusioned.

The final major take-out for me (which is often a major reason why some people believe that if everyone takes drugs it’s okay) is that drug efficacy differs between people, and it can depend on set limits. E.g. Tyler Hamiltons’s natural Haematocrit level was 43 – within the tour you were allowed up to 50 – so that’s essentially 6.9 haematocrit points Tyler was able to affect by drug taking. I’d be interested in why my haematocrit level is in comparison.

And the most interesting close to this review? Looks like Lance is considering coming clean – as I write this? Lance Armstrong considering coming clean was posted on the Huff Post 5 short hours ago…

You should Lance, for the good of the sport, your fans and ex-fans, and people who’s lives affected (and sued) right along the way.

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