Review: The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton

Published by Lyn on 30 September 2012

Guest reviewer Julia Stagg critiques The Secret Race, the autobiography of Tyler Hamilton – the first cyclist to so publicly point the finger at Lance Armstrong over allegations of doping.

The Secret Race by Tyler HamiltonI can remember his last day with the Tour de France. In 2004, he abandoned on Stage 13, the torturous climb to the Plateau de Beille just around the corner from our new home in the French Pyrénées. We’d moved there to open an auberge which gave that fateful day a double resonance: he was in our neighbourhood and he was my favourite rider. So I watched with dismay as Tyler Hamilton climbed off the bike and gave up. He was in agony. His dog was dying. Who could blame him?

It turned out that a lot of people could blame him. He failed a drugs test at the Olympics later that year, he became embroiled in Operation Puerto not long after, and his career never recovered. I, like countless others, felt cheated. My love of cycling was tainted and, like Hamilton’s cycling life, has never returned to what it once was. So it was with some trepidation that I approached his biography.

Biography doesn’t really do it justice. It’s not a walk from infancy to adulthood with excruciating detail serving as padding. His young life is dealt with quickly and his passion for cycling soon takes over. Before you know it, you’re reading about the early races, the sense of adventure and fear as he prepares to head for Europe, and his first meeting with Lance Armstrong.

Because that’s what this book is really about – Hamilton’s relationship with Armstrong and how that relationship was defined: by success; by rivalry; and by drugs. Lots of drugs. Ingenious ways of getting the edge over others, of keeping up with your competitors. The book is co-written by cycling journalist Daniel Coyle, a former Armstrong insider and author of Lance Armstrong: Tour de Force; Coyle says he extensively fact-checked the book to guarantee its accuracy.

I wasn’t expecting to be moved by Hamilton’s book. He broke my heart in 2004 and he’s a self-confessed cheat after all. But it is an honest, harrowing, eye-opening account that is a must-read for anyone interested in competitive cycling in the late '90s and the early 2000s. I came away with a better appreciation of the professional cyclist, under pressure to succeed. I came away with a renewed respect for Tyler Hamilton despite his misdemeanours. But most surprisingly of all, I came away with a renewed love of the sport. For underneath all the talk about the things he did wrong – and he points the finger at himself more than any other – there runs a passionate dialogue about cycling. A sport that defines him. A sport that ruined him. But ultimately, a sport that is all the better for Tyler Hamilton’s candid portrayal of life in the peloton.

The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton is published by Bantam Press.

Julia Stagg writes fiction set in the Ariège region of the French Pyrenees, an area she discovered through her passion for cycling. Her latest novel, The French Postmistress (UK, US, Fr), is the third in the Fogas Chronicles. It is published by Hodder and Stoughton – it even has a bike on the cover!

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