I read The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. ‘Read’ is an understatement. I devoured it over three subsequent nights in pursuit of truth, forcing myself to bed when I wanted to keep reading, only to be haunted by doping dreams.
I won’t evaluate the book on literary grounds. It was well written enough. It felt honest, authentic, believable. I’ll admit I ridiculed Hamilton for his so-called “chimera defense” at the time he tested positive for blood doping. Like so many riders before him, he took the path of denial, but now admits to coming clean. I want to believe him this time.
This is also a personal story for me. I grew up in New England racing with Tyler.
I was there in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Collegiate National Championships in 1993, his break-through year, when he sprinted clear to win the criterium. I drank beers with him in Boulder after the Garden of the Gods race. We rode around town on his cruiser with me clinging to the saddle while Tyler, on the pedals, took us over curbs, through bushes and alleyways, almost colliding with people on foot. We raced the Killington Stage Race as teammates, before he went to Coors Light as a stagiaire. I raced the 1996 Olympic Trials with him when he was on Postal Service.
Tyler could always go deep. We used to joke that he wasn’t “there” enough to know when to stop. In the book he explains, “You can’t block out the pain. You have to embrace it.” I can appreciate it all the more having seen him in action, having lived it myself.
Hamilton also documents many of the stories that were open-secrets in the pro cycling community. We all had heard stories about Lance Armstrong’s pre-cancer doping — and, frankly, had seen its effects on his body — and his training/medication rendez-vous with Dr. Ferrari. I can also corroborate Hamilton’s account of Armstrong’s coach, Chris Carmichael, being a “beard”. I was working with both Carmichael and Armstrong in the late 1990’s, producing Armstrong’s online “training diary”. The workouts Lance did never matched what Carmichael had on the plan. It was clear the workouts were coming from somebody else.
The most compelling aspect of The Secret Race is the details of Hamilton’s doping-fueled progress. It’s a paradoxical account at times between the work ethic, the doping program and a normal life compromised. The drugs weren’t a short cut. If anything, they made things harder. In the end, Hamilton chose an even more difficult path: to come clean.