Title: The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs
Author: Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
Price: Rs 1125 (Paperback)
Tyler Hamilton’s The Secret Race was described as THE book for seeing the dark side of bicycle racing when it was released in 2012.
From the outset, I must say, the book is as good as everyone claims. But this book isn’t just restricted to road racing fans. It doesn’t stop at opening the window to the ‘behind closed doors’ doping world of professional cycling. It delves into the sport, slicing it up from a number of angles. Taking the reader on a journey down some of the slipperiest slopes!
Tyler Hamilton’s detailed description of events from a decade back is possibly the most captivating feature of TSR, that coupled with his frank admission of his own misdemeanours makes for a refreshing read.
The book doesn’t sound vengeful, nor does it try to explain away his or other pro racer’s deeds. It is laid open, bare, in front of the reader. Judge the characters as you wish along this cycling journey.
It isn’t an autobiography which wastes time on trivial details or glorifies small achievements. TSR skims through Hamilton’s childhood before diving into the deep end. In cycling terms, for the most part, the reader is going to be flipping pages in Zone 5, never being able to recover from the shock of secrets.
Hamilton sets out with giving a background of the sport, when he got into it. How he, as many others, got suckered into bad decisions, repeatedly. The ultra-competitive streak in most professional athletes ensures that they are forever pushing the rules to breaking point.
When the guardians of those rules are careless about their charge, then the athletes will cross the line and never return. Because if one person does it, the rest have to follow. Or go home!
Even if this book didn’t utter a word about dope or Armstrong, it would still make a fascinating read!
Hamilton was Armstrong’s teammate for 3 successful Tour de France seasons, after which he switched teams and turned competition. His insights into the mind of the fallen hero are incredible. He started his professional cycling journey hero worshipping Armstrong and like most normal humans. It is difficult to completely remove traces of it from one’s blood stream.
TH speaks about working alongside, against and then being bullied by Lance. Before losing hope when the case in which TH testified didn’t go to trial.
The beauty of this book is that Hamilton at no point sounds bitter about any of the characters in his professional cycling life. Rather he places the blame on himself for trusting questionable personalities. Something rather difficult for an ordinary person to do. But then, this is the same man who rode the 2003 Tour de France with a broken collarbone, finished fourth, including a solo breakaway in stage 16. It takes a special kind of acceptance of pain and discomfort to do a ride like that and write a book like this!
If this is the only reason you want to read this book, then go for it. All the gory details of testosterone pills, EPO injections and blood transfusions are there.
The dope sections of the book are so dope, that it reads like a low budget Hollywood action movie! The only problem is that it is real. Hamilton describes an occasion where he and his then wife laid down flat on the floor when a tester came to their door to take a random sample. Or the example of another ‘random drug tester’ who would call in advance to let the athletes know that there was going to be a ‘surprise’ visit!
There are more drugs in this book than on the popular Netflix show, ‘Narcos’!
Two things stand out when you read about the drugs in TSR. One, the authorities were never really serious about catching anybody. Two, there is no guarantee that doping has been wiped clean from the sport.
I am a leisure cyclist, not a fan of road racing, having just watched a few hours of the Tour on television. Someone with a passing interest in the sport and its personalities. Yet this book is gripping, it reads like fiction and is as much of a page turner as any bestseller! It doesn’t matter if you don’t care for road racing, cycling or Armstrong. If you even have a casual interest in sport, then read ‘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.