During the two years Daniel Coyle spent reporting and
writing The Secret Race, he interviewed
Tyler Hamilton 60 times. That’s a remarkable number, but it doesn’t really give
an accurate picture of the amount of work that went into the book. Some of
those interviews lasted eight hours. Not included in those numbers were marathon Skype sessions in which the pair hashed out the manuscript. One of those sessions lasted 10 hours and 45 minutes.
Coyle also interviewed dozens of other racers and cycling experts, traveled to hotel rooms
in Europe to double check the accuracy of Hamilton’s stories, and read lots of scientific
studies and doping articles to make sure he had the science and history of drugs in cycling down. He added those
details into the story as footnotes, which freed him to
concentrate on Hamilton’s voice in the main text. “One of the comments I’ve appreciated the
most is that people who know Tyler really well say that the book really
captures his voice,” says Coyle. “I’m grateful for that. We really tried to
make sure that we did.”
I called up Coyle to find out a bit more about the process,
whether he and Hamilton ever clashed, and what he thinks the future holds for Lance
Armstrong and cycling.
In the first chapter of
the book you go into detail about how you first contacted Hamilton and then
went back and forth with him. Was there one moment when you knew you had to
write this book? There were a bunch of moments. It’s such a cliché, but every book is a
journey and this one had some big checkpoints early on. The first one was in
our first conversation, which was on the phone, before we met in person. I was
content with the projects I was working on and I wanted to challenge
him. I did not want to hear, Yeah, I have an interesting story to tell. What I
said was, I’m not interested in going 80 percent. I’m not interested in going
95 percent. I am only interested if you are going to go with 100 percent
disclosure with no boundaries. When he responded and said he had an openness to
that, it was a big moment. You realize, OK, this is a doorway to a place
where I don’t know that any journalist, certainly not I as a journalist, had
The next doorway was spending two days at a Marriott
Residence Inn in Boulder where we just turned on the tape recorder and started
going into it. Tyler talks about it as the Hoover Dam breaking. From the point
of the view of the person standing at the base of the Hoover Dam, and watching
the river kind of roll over, that’s a pretty good metaphor. Everything just
came out, one thing after another, with a lot of emotion and a lot of detail.
You know these experiences are so intense for these athletes, these memories
they have. They’ve kept them a secret for such a long time. It comes out in
I came home from that trip, and my wife asks me, How’d it
go? I tell her and I see her eyes getting bigger and bigger and I realize. I
transcribe all the tapes, about 16 hours worth, and it ends up being about 40
pages of stuff, at 10-point font. Reading through that, I was just kind of
like, Holy Mackerel. This isn’t just one story or two stories. This is a whole
fabric of a landscape that nobody had ever explored.
I guess the next moment was when we went to Europe, to these
places that evoked a whole other layer of memory and story and connection. I remember we were driving through Valencia
and he made some comment, that was kind of a joke, but, it was, Hey, I think
some of my blood bags are being kept in that clinic over there. It was sort of
that idea, that, Oh my God, we’re driving past these things that are still
So it was sort of a series of a journey where you set foot
in a landscape, and then you explore a little bit, and then you get into a city
and you explore that, and then you get into a room and you explore that, and it
just kept building and building until it was done.
There was a little sense of unfinished business after the
other book too (Lance Armstrong's War). There were aspects of that world that were not explored more at
that time. I was partly reluctant to go back in, but there was also a
sense of, OK, this is an opportunity to complete that project.
My work commute consists of 10 steps through my house, to
my home office. Plus, I do not have children. Still, I find myself jonesing for the Cascade Flyer, a
bike that is a commuter-cargo-tandem-kid-carrying hybrid and the brainchild of Portland, Oregon-based
bike builder Alistair Williamson.
There, I said it. If that makes me seem like a childless
person inexplicably pining for a minivan, fine. If a minivan could fit on a bus
bike rack, if it could easily be carried up the front stairs into my house, if
it had a Brooks saddle and a highly functional rack, then I’d probably want a
For Williamson, who launched Kinn (a take on kin and kinetic) Bikes
in 2012, the Cascade Flyer solves a perplexing problem. "I have grandkids and
they’re only around a day or two a week," he says. "If someone called me at
work and asked me to pick up Max at daycare, I would have had to ride home, get
in my car, and then go get him. Now, I can go straight to him."
Purpose-built cargo or "longtail" bikes, such as those made
by Xtracycle, are markedly longer than conventional bikes. This adds stability
and strength and accommodates more cargo carrier options. The downside of a
longtail is that it’s difficult to haul up stairs and impossible to stick in a
conventional rack, such as those on city buses.
This might be the longest series of unnecessary honks in the history of driver-versus-cyclist confrontations. An older male driver in a Ford SUV, license plate Colorado 893 EKG, slowed behind two bikers out for a Sunday ride near Longmont, Colorado, and laid on his horn for an awfully long time. He ignored the fact that the cyclists rode single file on the edge of the road. He honked so incessantly that one of the two cyclists ran out of memory while recording a video of the incident on his phone. There's no video to show what happened before the truck pulled up behind the cyclists, but here's a quick summary of what happened from one of the riders:
Josh Tostado overtakes an unsuspecting rider in the early morning Vapor hours.
Last weekend, I rode the Vapor Trail 125, an unsanctioned bike ride out of Salida, Colorado. It was my third time at the event, and though I didn't have the smoothest ride ever, the experience reminded me of just how fun small-scale mountain bike races can be. Fifty-some people lined up at 10 p.m. to race 125 rugged miles of backcountry two-track and high-altitude singletrack. There's 17,000-some feet of climbing, including a two-mile hike-a-bike over 12,000 feet in the blackest hours of night. Finishers trickled in from mid-morning 'til late evening the next day, and the only fanfare was a low-key barbecue behind event sponsor and local shop Absolute Bikes. It was exactly what bike racing is supposed to be: laid back, complication free, challenging, and—most of all—fun.
Even as big races like the 24 Hours of Moab are having trouble generating interest, grassroots events like the Vapor Trail are popping up all over the country. In part, the attraction is the simplicity. Registration fees are low (often free at local events), there are no overwrought rules or lengthy pre-race meetings, and pressure is almost nonexistent. It's just a bunch of like-minded riders lining up for a shared experience and a good time.
This little event had a big-name entrant this year, three-time 24-hour national champion and 24 Hours of Moab course record holder Josh Tostado. The Alma, Colorado, native originally planned to race the 24 Hour World Championships in Alberta, Canada, but when they were canceled he shifted his plans to Salida. And good thing. Tostado blazed the trying course, beating his nearest competition by almost an hour and setting a new course record of 12 hours and 42 minutes. I caught up with the new VT champ after the ride.
Downhill mountain bikers, moto riders,
extreme skateboarders and anyone else who is likely to have a rib-crushing
crash: take a look at this. POC’s new low-profile VPD 2.0 Jacket is a non-restrictive compression
shirtthat will protect your back as well as your ribs, chest, shoulders and elbows
if (read: when) you take a digger.