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Adventure : Books

Daniel Coyle on 'The Secret Race,' Tyler Hamilton, and Lance Armstrong

978-0-345-53041-7[1]The Secret Race. Photo: Courtesy of Bantam Dell

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 gone.

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 Technicolor.

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 around.

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.

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Lance Armstrong: Case Closed

A few years ago, I got a call from a journalist friend. He’d just been assigned to do a Lance Armstrong cover profile for a major magazine, and he didn’t know very much about cycling. This was typical—the more you knew about the sport, it seemed, the less access you would enjoy, thanks to Armstrong’s army of PR flacks, agents, and protectors.

Then my friend asked the inevitable question: “What about the doping?”

I sighed, then gave him the rundown: the sad history of scandal in the sport, beginning with the EPO era in the mid-1990s and continuing through the Spanish affair called Operación Puerto, in which police raided the offices of a Madrid gynecologist in 2006 and found detailed doping plans and freezers and refrigerators full of blood bags marked with code names for dozens of top riders. One of those riders was Tyler Hamilton, who’d been caught, basically, with someone else’s blood in his blood. It was creepy, ghoulish stuff.

Then we turned to the subject of Armstrong. At that point, he’d steered clear of major scandal, but there were enough tidbits to suspect that something was not right: the positive cortisone test from 1999, the urine samples from that year that had supposedly tested positive for EPO when they were checked in 2005. All the teammates of his who’d gotten popped, who’d tested positive; the two teammates who had already confessed to The New York Times. The fact that he was working with Michele Ferrari, unknown in the United States but renowned in Europe as the master of dope-fueled training. Most of this stuff had been reported, in some form, in the press. Then it had disappeared.

My friend tends to write about quirky heroes of mainstream sports, with a sideline in damaged celebrities; he knows a thing or two about messed-up lives. We talked for more than an hour. Later he sent an email that said, “Cycling is CRAZY! Who knew?”

AS OF THIS WEEK we know a lot more, thanks to the publication of Tyler Hamilton’s memoir, The Secret Race, written with former Outside editor Daniel Coyle. (Coyle was my first editor at Outside, before leaving the magazine in early 1990s.) Guarded for months with Manhattan Project–level rigor, The Secret Race is going to hit cycling—and the still unresolved Armstrong saga—like a bomb.

The Secret Race is not simply a rehash of Hamilton’s 2011 interview with 60 Minutes, as the initial Associated Press newsbreak suggested on Thursday. (The book’s release date is September 5, moved up from September 18, which awkwardly coincided with Armstrong’s birthday. The AP obtained a copy and wrote about it.) In fact, it’s the most comprehensive, detailed account to date of the culture of doping that prevailed in cycling during the Armstrong era. It’s a big, hot, steaming enema bag filled with purifying truth for a sport that has dodged it for far too long.

In 287 pages, Hamilton confirms most of the “allegations” that have “dogged” Armstrong over the years but could never be proven beyond a doubt. For instance: Have you wondered why Armstrong’s urine samples from the 1999 Tour tested positive for EPO? According to Hamilton, it was because Armstrong and his top lieutenants, Hamilton and Kevin Livingston, were all using EPO, the banned blood-booster drug (for which, incidentally, no direct test existed in 1999).

And remember Actovegin? That was the stuff that was in the trash bags that Postal staffers drove hours out of their way to deposit in roadside garbage cans in France during the 2000 Tour. They’d been followed surreptitiously by a French TV crew, who retrieved the bags and tested the contents. Actovegin, then an experimental drug made from calf’s blood, was known to improve oxygen transport. Yet Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel (director of U.S. Postal) insisted with straight faces that it wasn’t used for doping; instead, they offered a confusing story in which they claimed it was used to treat road rash and also a team mechanic’s diabetes. No explanation for why it had to be driven 60 miles out of the way and dropped off in a trash can, James Bond style.

According to Hamilton: Actovegin “was an injection that [team doctor Luis] del Moral gave some of the team just before a handful of big Tour stages, in order to increase oxygen transport, and which was undetectable in doping tests.”

But at the time, not only did Armstrong and Bruyneel escape any consequences, they managed to turn it around, attacking the French journalists for their purportedly tabloid-style tactics. The rest of the media pretty much bought it, and the Armstrong myth soon became unassailable. As did Armstrong himself: in his later Tours, it was not unusual to see the entire Postal team, nine riders churning up the steepest climbs in France, demolishing the rest of the field. It was like Mark McGwire hitting 100 home runs in a season, and nobody looked askance.

And why would they? The myth was highly profitable, for the industry sponsors who saw their sales skyrocket and for the journalists who got book contracts and steady work covering the newly popular sport of cycling. One of the saddest sights of this new era, in fact, is the increasingly deep denial of NBC commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who are both friends of Armstrong and far richer because of his popularity.

But The Secret Race is much more than a laundry list of allegations or a score-settling diatribe against Armstrong. In fact, Armstrong only figures in about half of the book, in part because Hamilton left Postal after the 2001 season. It’s the story of a sport, and an athlete—Tyler Hamilton—gone astray. There have been other doping memoirs, beginning with ex-pro Paul Kimmage’s 1980s classic, Rough Ride, on up to British cyclist David Millar’s confessional Racing Through the Dark, published in June.

Hamilton’s tale shows that doping has come an awfully long way since the steroids-and-amphetamines '80s (the dark age that baseball’s dopers seem mired in), and unlike Millar, he names names and tells tales in a way that’s going to upset a lot of people still active in the sport. Among the willing participants in Postal’s doping program, he cites the beloved George Hincapie, Jonathan Vaughters (also called out for his “incredible” gas), and, by implication, Christian Vande Velde. Also dragged into the crossfire is former Team CSC director (and 1996 Tour winner) Bjarne Riis, who oversaw Hamilton’s transformation from beaten-down Postal lieutenant to a Tour contender in his own right.

THIS ISN'T ARMSTRONG'S STORY; it’s really Hamilton’s, the tale of an ex–ski racer who discovers that his true talent is for cycling—or, rather, for enduring pain. This lands him on the U.S. Postal Service team, which Armstrong joined in 1998, after his recovery from cancer. Gradually, he becomes friends with Armstrong, whom he clearly sees as a kind of complicated big brother figure, by turns kind and inexplicably mean.

The Postal team was driven by the win-at-all-costs mentality of team owner Thom Weisel, an ambitious investment banker who was determined to get his Bad News Bears team into the Tour de France. Armstrong was perfectly in sync with his program, although (as Hamilton notes) the doping started before he arrived. They were getting pummeled by a doped-up European field, so the Americans decided to try and beat them at their own game.

Hamilton started with the “red eggs,” red gel capsules given to him by a team doctor supposedly to help with recovery; they contained Andriol, or testosterone. Then the doctor gave him EPO—which they called “Edgar,” as in Edgar Allen Poe. “We knew we were breaking the rules,” Hamilton writes. “But it felt more like we were being smart.” All of this was done under the eye of Ferrari, Armstrong’s personal trainer and doping doctor (who also faces a ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency). Chris Carmichael, who built a huge coaching business on his relationship with Armstrong, is barely mentioned. “During the years I trained with Lance, I don’t recall Lance ever mentioning Chris’ name or citing a piece of advice Chris had given him,” Hamilton writes. “By contrast, Lance mentioned Ferrari constantly, almost annoyingly so. Michele says we should do this. Michele says we should do that.”

The ethics of doping seem not to have troubled Armstrong. “To Lance’s way of thinking, doping is a fact of life, like oxygen or gravity. You either do it—and do it to the absolute fullest—or you shut up and get out, period.”

The crucial moment came during the run-up to the 2000 Tour, when Hamilton, Armstrong, and Livingston flew in Armstrong’s jet to Valencia, Spain, for a blood transfusion, which was performed by a team doctor in a hotel, with Bruyneel supervising. (Actually, it was blood removal; the blood would be replaced in the second week of the Tour, just as the riders would start to get worn down.) The transfusions were necessary because a new test for EPO had just been introduced. Blood transfusions using one’s own blood were still undetectable.

And also slightly disturbing. Hamilton: “With the other stuff, you swallow a pill or put on a patch or get a tiny injection. But here you’re watching a big clear plastic bag slowly fill up with your warm dark red blood. You never forget it.”

Then comes the inevitable falling-out with Armstrong—allegedly, Hamilton says, because Armstrong felt threatened by Hamilton’s growing strength as a rider. Cut out of the Postal doping loop, Hamilton claims he rode the 2001 Tour “paniagua,” his shorthand for the Spanish phrase pan y agua, “on bread and water.” Clean. The results back this up: he finished 94th. The next year, he was riding for Bjarne Riis at CSC —and challenging Lance for Tour supremacy.

DURING HIS 2009 COMEBACK, Armstrong summoned the British cycling writer Edward Pickering, one of his steadiest critics, to meet him in Austin, Texas, for an interview. The invite was supposed to mark a kind of glasnost in his relationship with the media. After the interview, Armstrong called Pickering out of the blue. He felt Pickering’s questions were “negative” and that Pickering felt he’d doped. He asked: “OK, then, if I cheated to win all those Tours, how did I do it?”

Hamilton has some answers there, too, starting with the bizarre tale of “Motoman,” a mysterious Frenchman who followed the Tour on a motorbike, carrying the team’s supply of drugs, syringes, and other paraphernalia. (Too bad they didn’t give him the Actovegin bags to dispose of.) Motoman turns out to have been a bike-shop owner from Nice who was friendly with Armstrong.

And while Armstrong defenders continue to claim that he “never tested positive,” it turns out that he did. “Yes, Lance Armstrong tested positive at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland,” Hamilton writes. “I know because he told me. We were standing near the bus the following morning, the beginning of Stage 9. Lance had a strange smile on his face. He was kind of chuckling, like someone had told him a good joke.”

Hamilton says he was appalled, but Armstrong strangely was not. “No worries, dude,” Armstrong said. “Were gonna have a meeting with them. It’s all taken care of.”

“They” were officials of the UCI, cycling’s governing body. And the positive test was indeed “taken care of.”

Later, Hamilton would get a vivid reminder of Armstrong’s pull with the UCI: during 2004, after notching some impressive results (including beating Armstrong at the Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic and at the Dauphiné Liberé), Hamilton was summoned to a meeting at the UCI. He was told by chief medical officer Mario Zorzoli that he’d delivered some unusual blood-test results and that they were watching him. A few weeks later, he says, Floyd Landis pulled up beside him in a race and dropped a bombshell: “You need to know something,” said Landis, then still riding for Postal. “Lance called the UCI on you.”

Which brings us to the great irony of this book: if Armstrong did call the UCI, he set in motion the chain of events that would lead to Hamilton’s positive test for blood doping. He did, in fact, have someone else’s blood in his blood, probably because of a botched transfusion. Hamilton was ultimately banned from the sport for two years (and, later, for life). But the call also led, in a way, to his harrowing confessional, which I believe.

I believe it for the following reasons. One, it fits the facts we already know (the EPO found in Armstrong’s 1999 samples, for starters). Two, it’s incredibly, exhaustively detailed—far more than Landis’ revelatory emails, which started off the federal and USADA investigations in 2010. In his matter-of-fact, New England-y way, Hamilton lays it all out: how he got seduced (willingly) into doping, how it worked, how team doctors rationalized it (“This is for your health”).

The biggest cheat in the book is Hamilton himself. He makes clear that his transformation into a Tour contender was fueled by extensive use of blood transfusions. He also makes clear that doping does not equal a shortcut; for it to work, you have to train twice as hard. Otherwise you’re wasting your money—as much as $50,000 a season, plus bonuses paid to the doctors when you win.

AS A JOURNALIST, IT was really weird to try to write about cycling during the Armstrong era. I’d worked in “real” journalism in Washington, D.C., and then in Philadelphia, and I had interviewed drug dealers, murderers, soon-to-be-indicted con artists, developers, politicians, and worse. Nobody gave you less than a pro cyclist circa 1999 through 2005.

Coyle himself noticed it during his interviews with Hamilton. “When he talked about bike racing or the upcoming Tour de France, however, Hamilton’s personality changed,” he writes in an author’s introduction. “His playful sense of humor evaporated; his eyes locked onto his coffee cup, and he began to speak in the broadest, blandest, most boring sports clichés you’ve ever heard.”

Yep. Especially when it came to Team Armstrong, you got the feeling that everyone was guarding some sort of huge secret. Their dealings with the press were tinged, increasingly, with paranoia. They kept blacklists, enlisted other journalists to keep tabs on each other, and generally behaved like the Sopranos. Critics, starting with Greg LeMond, were dealt with brutally.

So it’s probably going to suck to be Tyler Hamilton for the next few weeks. Because he lied in the past, his credibility is going to be assailed. Armstrong defenders will call him bitter, a snitch, or worse; many sports columnists will line up for another round of righteous pontificating about Armstrong’s heroism, most unburdened by having actually read the book.

Don’t believe Armstrong’s supporters this time, and be aware that The Secret Race actually has a merciful undercurrent. It’s an “attack” on Armstrong only in the sense that it reveals many uncomfortable truths. But it is also an invitation of sorts. By making clear that doping was endemic to the sport, and that Armstrong was far from the only cheat, Hamilton leaves the door open for his ex-teammate and ex-friend to save himself. All it would take is a press conference.

The most moving parts of the story come at the end, when after years of lying to everyone Hamilton has to face up to the truth—and tell his mom. A few days later, he went on 60 Minutes.

“Here’s what I was learning,” he writes of that painful period leading up to his confession. “Secrets are poison. They suck the life out of you, they steal your ability to live in the present, they build walls between you and the people you love. Now that I’d told the truth, I was tuning into life again. I could talk to someone without having to worry or backtrack or figure out their motives, and it felt fantastic.”

Bill Gifford has covered bike racing for many publications, including Outside, Bicycling, and Slate.

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Lance Armstrong’s Secret Is Out

Yesterday afternoon, the Associated Press published the first story detailing the contents of The Secret Race, the highly anticipated Lance Armstrong tell-all written by former U.S. Postal Service teammate Tyler Hamilton and longtime Outside contributing editor Daniel Coyle. The book is due in stores September 5, but given the hype surrounding its release, it’s no surprise that the publisher’s armor of secrecy was pierced. What is surprising is how badly the initial report fumbled the material.

Thursday’s AP story, published under the ho-hum headline “Tyler Hamilton Says Lance Armstrong Supplied Blood Booster Before ’99 Tour,” offers a shockingly dull overview of Hamilton’s allegations. The book “covers much of what Hamilton said in a 2011 interview with 60 Minutes,” the story states, written in AP’s classic voice-from-nowhere tone. Reading it, you're left with the impression that The Secret Race is “just” a rehash of what Hamilton had told us already and that Armstrong had dodged yet another bullet—maybe the last one in the chamber.

I also got a copy of The Secret Race this week, and Outside had made plans to review it on the day the book became available. When I saw the AP story, I imagine I had the same reaction many other journalists had who’d received a review copy: Did the AP read the same thing I just did? 

Here’s the reality: The Secret Race isn’t just a game changer for the Lance Armstrong myth. It’s the game ender. No one can read this book with an open mind and still credibly believe that Armstrong didn’t dope. It’s impossible. That doesn’t change the fact that he survived cancer and helped millions of people through Livestrong, but the myth of the clean-racing hero who came back from the dead is, well, dead.

Where to start? It’s hard to describe the impact of The Secret Race by boiling it down to seven or eight shocking anecdotes. The book delivers them—make no mistake—but its real power comes from Hamilton’s unprecedented attempt at full disclosure. And I mean full. The book is the holy grail for disillusioned cycling fans in search of answers. In a taut 268 pages, Hamilton confidently and systematically destroys any sense that there was ever any chance of cleaning up cycling in the early 2000s, revealing the sport’s powerful and elaborate doping infrastructure. He’s like a retiring magician who has decided to let the public in on the profession’s most guarded techniques.

Beginning with his first doping experiences as a member of the U.S Postal Service team in 1997, Hamilton reveals not only what he and other riders were doing and taking (EPO, steroids, testosterone, Actovegin, blood transfusions, and on and on), but also how they were taking it (in the case of EPO, intravenously—and Hamilton has the scar to prove it). He tells us how most riders evaded detection (one trick: French laws bar testers from showing up between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., so cyclists “microdosed” EPO at ten and the drug was gone by morning) and how the game was rigged in a way that made testing nearly irrelevant (“If you were careful and paid attention,” writes Hamilton, “you could dope and be 99 percent certain that you would not get caught”). Supporters still clinging to the claim that Armstrong passed more than 500 drug controls will be shocked to learn how insignificant those tests really were.

Not that all this doping and evading was a cinch. Hamilton describes the exhausting deceptions and logistics required to obtain the drugs, hide the drugs, store the blood bags, schedule the dosing—the hundreds of details necessary to maintain the high-40s hematocrit level that keeps a racer competitive on the course and safe in the control room. At times the evasive measures sound like techniques from a cheap spy novel. There are disguises, prepaid cell phones, clandestine meet-ups in random hotel rooms, and lots and lots of code names, including “red eggs” (testosterone pills), “Edgar” (EPO), and “oil” (testosterone drops). At one point, Hamilton got a text from his doctor on his prepaid phone during a Tour de France rest day: “The restaurant is 167 miles away.” Translation: Meet me in room 167 for your blood transfusion.

The drugs are everywhere, and as Hamilton explains, Armstrong was not just another cyclist caught in the middle of an established drug culture—he was a pioneer pushing into uncharted territory. In this sense, the book destroys another myth: that everyone was doing it, so Armstrong was, in a weird way, just competing on a level playing field. There was no level playing field. With his connections to Michele Ferrari, the best dishonest doctor in the business, Armstrong was always “two years ahead of what everybody else was doing,” Hamilton writes. Even on the Postal squad there was a pecking order. Armstrong got the superior treatments.

What ultimately makes the book so damning, however, is that it doesn’t require readers to put their full faith in Hamilton’s word. In the book’s preface, which details its genesis, Coyle not so subtly addresses Armstrong’s supporters by pointing out that, while the story is told through Hamilton, nine former Postal teammates agreed to cooperate with him on The Secret Race, verifying and corroborating Hamilton’s account. Nine teammates. That fact is the first punch thrown at Armstrong’s supporters—and it might be the most damaging one. Next Wednesday, when The Secret Race comes out, backers will probably make the familiar claim that Hamilton is a disgruntled, bitter ex-rival who got popped for doping and is now looking to cash in. But that doesn’t explain why nine former teammates agreed to cooperate.

A sampling of the book’s revelations:

* In 1999, Postal hired Armstrong’s gardener, nicknamed Motoman, to follow the Tour in a motorcycle, carrying a thermos full of EPO and a prepaid cell phone. “When we needed ‘Edgar,’” writes Hamilton, “Phillipe would zip through the Tour’s traffic and make a drop-off.”

* Armstrong has always tried to downplay his relationship to Ferrari, but Hamilton and other teammates describe him as being obsessed with the man. “Kevin [Livingston] and I used to say that Lance said the word ‘Michele’ more often than he said ‘Kik,’ ” says Hamilton, referring to Armstrong’s nickname for his wife at the time, Kristen. Multiple teammates, including Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters, and Floyd Landis recount how strange it was to hear Chris Carmichael described in the press as Lance’s coach. “I don’t recall Lance ever mentioning Chris’ name or citing a piece of advice Chris had given him,” writes Hamilton. “By contrast, Lance mentioned Ferrari constantly, almost annoyingly so.” Landis is more pointed, calling Carmichael “a beard.”

* The 2011 60 Minutes story on Armstrong’s doping reported that he had once failed a drug test in 2001 at the Tour of Switzerland, a story Hamilton backs up: “Yes, Lance Armstrong tested positive at the Tour of Switzerland.” He describes an encounter with Armstrong just after Stage 9 of the race. “You won’t fucking believe this,” he allegedly told Hamilton. “I got popped for EPO.” According to the 60 Minutes investigation, the UCI stepped in after the positive test, requesting that “the matter go no further,” and then set up a meeting between the lab’s director, Armstrong, and team director Johan Bruyneel. The insinuation is clear: Lance was using connections within the UCI to help his cause. Hamilton describes a climate in which this doesn’t seem at all far-fetched. “Sometime after that, I remember Lance phoning Hein Verbruggen from the team bus ... and I was struck by the casual tone of the conversation. Lance was talking to the president of the UCI, the leader of the sport. But he may as well have been talking to a business partner, a friend.”

These kinds of stories are everywhere in the book, and it almost seems silly to catalog them. The book’s power is in the collected details, all strung together in a story that is told with such clear-eyed conviction that you never doubt its veracity. Hamilton describes a doping culture that is so pervasive that one loses track of all the players involved in keeping the fraud going: doctors, coaches, trainers, soigneurs, politicians, wives. When a drug tester shows up in a town full of cyclists, the word spreads through the community within minutes, tipping off anyone who might still be in their “glowtime” (the period when drugs in their system are still detectable). 

Sometimes the authorities couldn’t be anticipated, but there was always someone to help cover for a vulnerable cyclist. For Hamilton, that was his long-suffering ex-wife, Haven. When a tester would show up unexpectedly at their home, Haven would lock eyes with Hamilton and ask, “You’re good?” before answering the door. Most of the time he was. Once, when he wasn’t, they both hit the deck and stayed quiet until the tester left the premises. 

This is a world that disgruntled cycling fans have long suspected existed, but the reality is so much more elaborate than we could have imagined. Lies upon lies upon lies. And everyone in on the secret. It’s the weight of all those secrets that inevitably takes its toll on Hamilton and his teammates. No one understands the burden of maintaining a double life more than Hamilton, a once proud cyclist whose career and private life went off the rails the moment he failed a test after his gold-medal performance at the 2004 Olympics. In the book’s preface, Coyle describes his first meeting with the disgraced cyclist, in a booth at the back of a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, in 2011. As they sat down, Hamilton looked like he was going to cry—“not from grief,” writes Coyle, “but from relief.”

“Sorry,” Hamilton says. “It just feels so good to be able to talk about this, finally.”

This exchange establishes the real arc of the book, which is less about destroying Armstrong and more about rehabilitating Hamilton—not for fans, necessarily, but for himself. The Hamilton that viewers saw on 60 Minutes was nervous and visibly conflicted about his decision to come clean and tell the truth. The Hamilton in The Secret Race is a different being altogether. It may just be the strength of Coyle’s writing, but the more Hamilton reveals—the more exhaustive his accounting of all the sins—the more confident his voice becomes. You sense the weight of all the lies being shed, chapter by chapter. By the end, Hamilton has journeyed so far beyond a mere thirst for revenge that he confesses that he feels sorry for Armstrong—a teammate who once tried to destroy him. He understands the pain involved with keeping the lies going for so long.

“I was sorry in the largest sense,” he writes, describing his emotions this past summer when he stared at a photo of Armstrong that he found in his garage. “Sorry for him as a person, because he was trapped, imprisoned by all the secrets and lies. I thought: Lance would sooner die than admit it, but being forced to tell the truth might be the best thing that ever happened to him.”

After finishing The Secret Race, I can’t help but agree. The morning after I finished it, I watched a video that Armstrong had released online for his supporters, looking them in the eye to boost their spirits and telling them it’s “time to move forward.” I could no longer see the famous self-confidence. His eyes looked tired. His voice sounded as though he were trying to convince himself. I felt sorry for him, too. I could feel the weight of all the deception.

Christopher Keyes is the editor of Outside.

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