The Secret Race, a new book from ex-pro bike racer Tyler Hamilton and the author of Lance Armstrong’s War, Daniel Coyle, hit bookshelves this past Wednesday, September 5, 2012.
On the morning of the book’s release, Hamilton and Coyle appeared on the Today Show. The show’s host, Matt Lauer, focused his interview mainly on the book’s allegations that Lance Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs during career. Lauer’s questions, of course, were understandable: Armstrong is a hero to millions of people who do not follow bike racing; Hamilton, to those who are not fans of the sport, is just the guy who blew the whistle on Lance—and himself—on 60 Minutes. And he’s now dropping the dime in much greater detail in The Secret Race.
But The Secret Race is about so much more than that; it’s the story of what life is like at the top level of bicycle racing—and about a life built, broken and rebuilt again.
I first met Hamilton in 1994, when he joined our Coors Light Cycling Team for a short time as a stagiaire—sort of a still-amateur intern on a professional team. It was immediately clear that the kid had talent. He could go hard. Just as he describes in the book, he could suffer with the best of them. During the time he rode with us, I seem to recall him crashing three times in just two races—and still placing okay. His ability to push himself past his own physical ability and bike-handling skills were undoubtedly the reason for many of his famous crashes and broken bones.
I’d met Armstrong a year or two prior to meeting Hamilton. During a brief elevator ride, he surprised me by knowing my bio. This was the time before smart phones and Google searches, yet the guy had the equivalent of a major-league-baseball scouting report on me—and I was far from being a cycling celebrity. More than flattering, it was eerily impressive and characteristic of his incredible drive.
The next time I had any interaction with Armstrong was at the 1994 Tour DuPont, the same race in which Hamilton met the future Tour winner for the first time. Armstrong congratulated Hamilton for his sixth place finish in the Tour DuPont’s prologue time trial, and me for the profile that USA Today ran about my role within the Coors Light team.
The Secret Race takes us from Hamilton’s early cycling career through team changes, his eventual positive doping test and on to present day. In it, we’re brought into his inner circle with detailed accounts of his doping practices. We ride along, experiencing many of his ups and downs as he chases elusive victories.
Having known and ridden alongside many of the other riders featured in the book, I was impressed with how accurately each was portrayed. Further, Coyle inserted other characters’ commentary into the narrative so carefully, that it almost felt like they were right there, adding a bit more color and context to Hamilton’s story.
I was even reminded of parts of pro-cycling life I’d long forgotten, like the daily struggle to become as thin as possible while your body is begging you for more food—and what it actually feels like when you finally get to that magical level of fitness.
“In mid-June, I started to get the signs. The first was when my arms got so skinny that my jersey sleeves started to flap in the breeze; I’d feel them vibrating against my triceps. The next sign was when it began to hurt when I sat on our wooden dining-table chairs. I had zero fat on my ass; my bones dug into the wood and they ached; I had to sit on a towel to be comfortable. Another sign: my skin got thin and transparent-looking; Haven said she could start to see the outline of my internal organs. The final sign was when friends would start to tell me how shitty I looked—that I was just skin and bones. To my ears it sounded like a compliment. I knew I was getting close.”
Hamilton’s memoire was nearly impossible to put down. It was a bit like sitting across the table from him—or perhaps on a bar stool next to him—and listening to an uncensored story of his life in the sport. From his first races as a pro, to his decision to dope, to the pride of helping his teammate win the sport’s biggest event, to the detective-novel-style disguises and clandestine meetings, to getting popped, to coming to grips with his life, The Secret Race is an outstanding read—a real-life look at many of the struggles that face a professional bicycle racer.
Without a doubt, steadfast Armstrong supporters will be quick to dismiss Hamilton’s story as sour grapes. And it’s understandable that Armstrong himself won’t be lining up for an autographed copy. But erase every single sentence alleging a connection between Lance Armstrong and doping, and this book is still an absolute must-read for aspiring bike racers and every fan of the sport.
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
$28.00 | Bantam Books