The Secret Race is the autobiography of American cyclist Tyler Hamilton, who was a teammate of Lance Armstrong during his time at the US Postal team.
It’s an eye-opening account into the workings of the team from the incident. If you’ve read Seven Deadly Sins by David Walsh, this is a good compliment as you’re getting first-hand experience of the affair.
The book exposes the lengths the team went to in regard to doping to ensure they had an advantage over their competitors.
This is arguably the best account of the inner-workings of the US Postal team and the doping machine behind Armstrong.
Hamilton was one of the top riders in the world at the time and a key lieutenant to Armstrong. What he reveals is astonishing and underlines the ruthlessness at the heart of Armstrong and his win at all costs mentality.
The book will leave you more informed, in disbelief at what went on in cycling during the time and the lengths Armstrong and his team went to in order to cover up their doping.
If you’re a sports fan, this is a must-read!
The Secret Race summary
Takeaway 1 Doping was widespread in the US Postal team
It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t just Armstrong who was doping in the team, virtually all of the riders were.
Cycling is a team sport, not an individual one. This is what a lot of people don’t realise until they start following the sport. You cannot win the Tour de France without the backing of a team.
You need your team-mates to keep you safe during the race, shepherd you out of trouble and ride for you in the big mountains.
The team leader is like a mafia boss. He is protected by those around him until he runs out of teammates and then the leaders of the respective team duke it out.
During Amstrong’s reign as Tour leader, his team was the most well-prepared out of the lot. Well-prepared in this instance refers to the sophisticated level of doping that went on.
Every rider had their own programme and was even given responsibility for sourcing the drugs themselves as crazy as this seems.
Perhaps the craziest part is that the US Postal’s team doping programme was so thorough, they paid a man to follow the race on a motorcycle carrying a thermos full of EPO, a drug which boosts your red blood cell count, thus improving performance.
He came to be known as Motoman by the team was the team’s way of getting around transporting drugs while the race was on. If they were caught with them in the team car, as had happened in the 1998 Tour, they would have been thrown out of the race.
The plan was ingenious and highlights Armstrong win at all costs approach and his paranoia. He was worried about what teams were doing and whether he would be caught, hence Motoman.
It all went back to Lance’s golden rule as Hamilton put it: “Whatever you do, those other fuckers are doing more.”
Takeaway 2 Armstrong was ruthless towards his rivals
While Armstrong and Hamilton were teammates at the US Postal team, Hamilton left the team in 2002, and in 2004, he was a leading contender to win the Tour.
One of the reasons Hamilton left the team was because Armstrong had become cold and vindictive towards him, possibly worried about the potential of Hamilton.
Hamilton was on great form in 2004, aided by his doping regime, and was confident of challenging Armstrong for the Tour.
One of the main warm-up races for the Tour de France is the Dauphiné Libéré. One stage of the race involved a time trial to the top of Mont Ventoux, a tough climb that regularly features on the Tour.
During the time trial, Hamilton set off after Armstrong and was consistently making ground on him as he edged closer to the finish line. By the time he had completed the stage, he added 1:22 to his advantage over Armstrong in the race, a phenomenal result.
Armstrong was not happy. Following the race, Hamilton was called to the headquarters of the cycling federation, the UCI for a meeting. There he was told his blood levels showed irregularities and that he was being watched.
Hamilton was unsure why he had been called in, but it became clearer later. His former teammate, Floyd Landis, informed him it was Armstrong who called the UCI to complain about Hamilton and accuse him of doping.
The irony is incredible. The man who gained the most from doping in cycling, raging against another rider doping in a manner that he was doing himself.
Of course, this was all part of Armstrong’s plan to consolidate his position and intimidate his rivals.
It shows his paranoia and his ruthless determination to win at all costs. It also paints him in an unfortunate light. Hamilton’s words make Armstong look cold and vindicative. This reflects how the relationship between the two had soured towards the end of their time as teammates.
Takeaway 3 The truth always wins in the end
The irony in reading this book is that for all the efforts that went into concealing their doping, they were forced to admit to it in the end.
It may have taken years and until they were retired for the truth to come out, but come out it did.
The lengths Armstrong, and the other riders for that matter, went to gain an edge and then conceal that edge is breathtaking.
Motoman, performing blood transfusions throughout the season, no stone was left unturned in their quest to find more performance and find more performance than their rivals.
Yet, it was all in vain. Yes, more or less everyone was doping at this time, so it was almost a necessity to dope if you wanted to win, but they all must have known they would be caught eventually.
The problem with lies is that they are harder to keep track off than the truth. With the truth, you use what happened. There is no need to fabricate stories and embellish facts.
With a lie, you need to get your story straight, ensure you’ve rehearsed your lines and not forget what the lie is.
The other problem, and perhaps the bigger one, is that the more people that become part of the lie, the more likely it is to fall apart.
You have to keep all these people on board and hope they don’t speak out. It’s an impossible task. If someone digs deep enough and tries to find the truth, they will.
Hamilton himself cracked when federal investigators came to him to tell the truth about Armstrong and his doping.
No matter how hard we try, or how good our lies are, they will always be found out in the end.
The Secret Race review
This The Secret Race summary has looked at brief parts o this fascinating book.
Reading it, it’s incredible what Lance Armstrong got away with. Tyler Hamilton doesn’t pull any punches and details how the doping happened and affected him.
The fact that this book comes from a former close teammate of Armstrong’s gives the book more credibility.
Considering what Hamilton reveals, it’s staggering that Armstrong was able to keep his doping under wraps for so long and had the gall to deny it for so long.
I was left bewildered by the scope of the operation and Arnstrong’s ruthlessness to those who crossed him.
The book doesn’t paint a favourable picture of Armstrong, one which ran counter to the one he tried to cultivate.
This is one of the best sports books I’ve read and I can’t recommend it enough!
Who should read The Secret Race?
Anyone with an interest in cycling should read this. Armstrong’s doping is one of the most infamous cases int he sport’s history and Tyler Hamilton had a ringside seat to it all.
If you’re looking to gain a wider understanding of the scandal surrounding Armstrong and his history in general, The Secret Race is a good book to read.