I was going to start this post by saying The Secret Race isn’t going to win any awards for writing…but then I had a closer look at the back of the book and was quite surprised to discover that I was very wrong on this account. The Secret Race won the 2012 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award. I stand corrected. I am assuming that it was the subject matter alone that got this book an award because the writing is by no means exceptional. However, I’m not one for wasting time reading poorly written material and I never once considered putting down The Secret Race: the subject matter is exceptional. The book chronicles the career of Tyler Hamilton, who rode for the infamous U.S. Postal Service cycling team, along with Lance Armstrong, for several years. I should say that I have never taken much of an interest in road racing and have only watched bits and pieces of the Tour de France before reading this book. I suppose I am guilty of being sucked into the drama that was Lance Armstrong’s persistent denial of ever having used performance-enhancing drugs during his ridiculously successful career. Despite more and more cyclists came out admitting not only that they had used drugs during world-class events like the Tour de France, but also offering up compelling evidence that Armstrong was right alongside them, even instigating and pioneering the use of new performance-enhancing techniques, Armstrong stood his ground. Hamilton was at one point one of Armstrong’s inner circle and lays out his story with page-turning detail. I read this book months after Lance finally admitted on national TV to having used drugs, and reading Hamilton’s account you realize what an obstinate bully Armstrong truly is to have denied it for so long. While I felt very little sympathy for Armstrong reading the book (he really is not a very nice guy), I did feel sympathy for these cyclists who really had no other choice but to engage in illegal doping. As you learn from Hamilton, it was only the very elite athletes who were invited to take part in the doping activities, which included among other things, blood transfusions. Once you were invited you faced a stark choice: either accept the enhancements and give yourself a chance to win, or quit. Since everyone at the top was taking part, there was no hope of advancing your cycling career otherwise. The amount of gruelling training and hardship that goes into becoming an elite cyclist is absolutely mind-boggling. Despite most of these athletes’ aversion to performance-enhancing drugs, it becomes clear from reading The Secret Race that they had no other option. If you have even a passing interest in the Lance Armstrong era of cycling, I do recommend this book, despite its less-than-stellar narrative style. You will gain a newfound respect for cyclists and what it takes to race among the best in the world.
The Secret Race, by Tyler Hamilton & Daniel Coyle