Just finished the Tyler Hamilton-Daniel Coyle doping tell-all, The Secret Race. Yup, they certainly told all. Tyler Hamilton, Boy Scout Gone Bad!
First off, mandatory reading for anyone who cares to know about what it took to win races in the 90’s. Well-written by Coyle, who wrote (in our opinion) the definitive Armstrong book Armstrong’s s War, the story is a fast and furious and fascinating read.
In no particular order or ranking, a few observations stick out:
Wow, it’s a lot of work to dope! It takes time and energy, significant funding, constant deception (both inward and outward), a sophisticated network and never-ending adjustments to stay ahead of the testing and the competition. On some level you’re almost impressed — not only is the training damn hard, now they have a side job, too.
The details of the doping regime are interesting to read but anyone who ever learned the evidence from the Operacion Puerto doping investigation won’t be scandalized. What sticks out, is the pervasive quality and how matter-of-fact the whole thing was. Which is in its own way staggering. It’s like these guys never thought the secret would ever get out. Every secret comes out, fellas! The fact that Armstrong or anyone else thought they could keep a lid on this is a head shake.
We were also struck by the complicity of the wives and girlfriends. They were willing to play the game and when it comes down to it, what guy wouldn’t propose to Haven? Not only did she look super hot, she had Hamilton’s back until the final bitter end. Haven was a pro. While Sheryl Crowe is playing “see no evil, hear no evil,” for the media, Armstrong’s first wife was apparently in on the game, too. Kicking it with Kik.
Most people are pretty clear that Armstrong was a win at all costs guy, a whatever it takes bike racer, a bad-ass willing to bend or break whatever rules apply if he thought he could win. Still, we were stunned to learn that – according to Hamilton — the Boss had submarined Hamilton –ratting him out to the UCI and getting them to call Hamilton in for questioning. That is not a flattering allegation for Juan Pelota.
Part of that subplot was Hamilton telling us how he learned his former teammate and pal Armstrong was the back-stabber. Floyd Landis told him. It always reminds us of the stupidity of crabby fools who complain “this guy lied once, how do I know he’s telling the truth now?” Setting aside their fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, Hamilton and Landis are the two people I believe most.
Note that they’re essentially both puritans — the Mennonite Landis and the son of “always tell the truth” parents, hardworking folks from the Northeast. There are two guys with an ingrained moral compass. They might swing wildly off course, but they return with a vengeance. It’s no surprise that these are the two guys — not Leipheimer or Hincapie or Vande Velde — who were the ones that went all the way, nothing held back, the dirty truth and nothing but.
We also found Hamilton’s portrayal of George Hincapie to be fairly gentle. While explaining that Big George was doing the full program on doping when he rode for US Postal, Hamilton still goes easy. Proof that being an essentially nice guy and down-to-earth will always pay dividends even when the truth comes out. You should have seen and heard the adoring sendoff the crowd in Denver gave Hincapie on his last day before retirement. There’s a wonderful moment when somebody on the team pushes George for help dealing with the doping conundrum and George just gives him a simple Zen response — “you’ll just have to work it out for yourself.”
Perhaps it’s just a smart move on his part — but then again pointless given the accusations — but Hamilton writes a number of times of feeling bad for Lance on a personal level. That he has to suffer through all this. Twisted Spoke feels the same way. Lance is still a king in our book — if everyone is clean, he wins seven times, if everyone is doped, he wins again, seven times. The best of the best. The truth is, we pretty much all feel bad for Lance. Yes, he cheated but he’s still a helluva guy and a master fund raiser.
We appreciated Hamilton’s 1000 days story — the insight and experience that it takes about three years to come around to saying yes to doping if you have any hope of riding well and being in the front group. Coyle does a good job with that, making you feel the agony of riding so hard day after day, going so deep you can’t possibly recover, just to finish at the back, a nobody, of no use to your team, your teammates or yourself.
And here we’ll allow ourselves a a rant on those moralistic fools who see the world in black and white with no human gray. Most people, if they’re honest with themselves, would have taken the easy way and doped. There are very few people strong enough to walk away. They’re impressive and I envy their inner compass and mental strength. Me, if that was my life and passion and dream and I was 3% away from success and everybody else is doing it, then hand me the syringe. If you think you would have said no, then there’s a high probability you’re bullshitting yourself and have no idea what you’re talking about. Okay, rant over. No sense getting all Steve Tilford about life.
We’re a big fan of Bjarne Riis (and, if we’re painfully honest, Johan Bruyneel) and we had to smile at Hamilton’s description of the wily Dane. He writes that underneath the cold nordic exterior there is this wild, creative Italian dying to get out and dance. We’ve always guessed that was Riis — we suspect in private he’s a pretty funny guy and knows his fine wine. Love to have a dinner with Riis someday, just cause. And to finish the Bruyneel thought, yes, he was guilty as sin but damn, he was smart and clever and a master motivator and liar. We spent most of our career in advertising — guys like that, you want them running your team.
One thing we wished and Coyle half admitted. He didn’t think Hamilton was interesting enough to carry a story — nice but dull, death to a story teller. We so wish Coyle had been able to talk Landis into a book instead. This is a solid book, Landis would have been Pulitzer and first prize for comedy. A missed opportunity.
We’ll be musing about the Hamilton book in Part 2 and part 3. For now, grab it — cool fact — you can download it on your iPad from iTunes.