Title: The Secret Race
Author: Tyler Hamilton, David Coyle
Format: Electronic (Kindle)
I’m a cyclist once-removed, i.e. I’m married to an avid cyclist and through him I’ve become a fan of the sport. Summers in our home are marked by various Tours–d’Italia, de France– and other Classic rides like Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I wouldn’t know Kobe Bryant if he ran over me with a golf cart, but I could spot Cadel Evans from half a mile away. This is what it is to be a cycling fan.
Tyler Hamilton was always one of my favourites in the Pro Peloton. Whereas Lance Armstrong comes across as cocksure and aggressive, Tyler Hamilton’s natural competitiveness seemed measured by a degree of humility (well, as much humility as you’ll see in a pro athelete) and gentleness. It helped that he had a golden retriever called Tugboat whom he always mentioned fondly. Tyler Hamilton is the kind of guy you’d want to have at your 4th of July Barbecue, whereas Lance Armstrong is the pig you want to roast.
When Tyler was first accused of doping I was disappointed, but I can’t say I was surprised. I’m pretty far removed from the world of competitive sporting as in, I don’t play EVER and you’d have to have a gun to my family members’ heads to get me to suit up for any team. To me competition at a pro level has always seemed to require sacrifices of time and personal well-being that are beyond extreme. So when you tell me guys have to take drugs that boost their red blood cell count and give themselves transfusions of their own blood to boost their oxygen even higher I think “of course they do.” To me doping was always just another stupid thing a person had to do if they wanted to be a top level competitor. I don’t think it’s right–I think it’s flat out wrong, frankly–but then again I also think it’s not right to leave your children halfway around the world for months at a time while you pursue glory. (You can tell yourself you’re doing it for your kids but yellow jerseys don’t read bedtime stories or coach t-ball.)
For years–almost a decade and a half–pro cycling fans have known two things. First, you have to be superhuman to win at any of the large classics and Lance Armstrong claimed that his superhumanity came not from doping but from a state-of-the-art training regimen. He wasn’t Ivan Drago with the injections and the chemicals; Lance was Rocky chasing the chicken and climbing through the snow with trees on his back. That’s the story and that’s what he stuck to for years. As inspiring a montage as that may be for a TV movie–look! He’s back from cancer and riding in windtunnels to triumph over death itself!–the true story turns out to be a much more interesting story on the order of a spy novel.
That’s the terrific thing about The Secret Race. You don’t have to know a single thing about cycling; reading this book is like reading a VH-1 episode of “Behind The Music” combined with a kickbutt Rocky movie, a Bourne thriller before they got generic AND a really great courtroom drama. Frankly, it’s an unputdownable book. Even if you followed a lot of the events in real time and you know what’s coming you still can’t stop reading. In fact, I think that I can honestly say that this is the most compelling book I’ve read in the last six months.
The Secret Race was released last August, five months before Lance Armstrong went on Oprah to admit to doping. Approaching Hamilton’s story with that knowledge in your back pocket sweetens the read even further. It took me much longer to read this book than it normally would have because I kept putting it down to check various claims against the now-public testimony from others. Hamilton uses this book to tell a great steaming slice of the truth; the furtive code words, elaborate secret meetups, and dirty dealings in dingy hotel rooms across western Europe really happened.
Even though he’s retired from pro cycling, Tyler Hamilton has with this book pulled off the most entertaining ride in cycling since Floyd Landis’ breakaway in Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this 5-bookworm book as soon as possible.