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.