Who is Ted?

I'm the father of two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife. For fun, I enjoy the long hours of seemingly endless suffering that endurance sports (mostly running, cycling and triathlon)provide. During my "down time" I'm an avid beer snob and self-described gourmet chef (in other words I like to burn things on a stove or grill).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton & Danny Coyle

I am not a Lance-hater.  In my humble opinion, the majority of people are neither good nor bad, but are combinations of both attributes.  Good people make bad choices, and vice-verse.  To me, Lance Armstrong seems to embody that.  A Seven Time Tour Winner and A Doper.  Founder of the Livestrong Foundation and a Cheat.  Inspiration to millions and cruel and ruthless to former friends and colleagues.  And, if you take Tyler Hamilton's word for it, Lance is not alone by any stretch. 
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs  by Tyler Hamilton and Danny Coyle, chronicles his life as a cyclist and an admitted user of performance enhancing drugs and blood transfusions.  His story intertwines with that of his colleague and eventual nemesis, Lance Armstrong.  Unfortunately at times, the book does read more like an expose about Armstrong and the fact that he got away with Doping for so long when everyone else was "getting popped."  Clearly, and not without reason perhaps, this is a big issue for Hamilton, and he makes no bones about this, or the feelings of betrayal generated by his former teammate at Postal.  He lays out an extensive record of doping both on his own part, as well as amongst many of the top names in cycling during the last decade.  
Tyler Hamilton writes extensively about Doping & Cycling

But this isn't what makes the book interesting.  Rather than the "who did what" aspect and the scandal, it's his description of the espionage and the science behind performance enhancing drugs that is fascinating.  The story goes into great detail to explain how entire teams, and eventually individual riders were able to obtain these drugs and continue to use them despite the feeble attempts to test athletes and present the image that the sport was attempting to clean itself up.  Hamilton, with independent verification of events by coauthor Danny Coyle, talks about the complicity that the UCI shared in the doping issue, how the best riders in the world consulted the same "doctors," who provided support in the form of EPO's and eventually blood transfusions to be used throughout the  race: Le Tour.  
It's obvious that doping has had a huge impact on cycling performance amongst former and current professionals, and that yes, Lance Armstrong was one among many users.  Hamilton points out that doping was so extensive amongst the top cyclists, that at times, it didn't really feel like cheating.  It was part of the "culture" of cycling and many riders approached it like any other tactic or strategy to be successful.  Hamilton does not trot out the argument that it was "fair" because "everyone was doing it,"  he simply points out that any clean riders would not have been able to keep up with the leaders because of the impact that doping had on the racers.  Better riders tended to be able to afford better doctors, drugs, and strategies, and so doping tended to create an unstoppable cycle that propelled itself.  
The US Postal Team dominated the Tour and other races for several years.
Coming on the heels of Lance's decision not to arbitrate with the anti-doping agency USADA, this book isn't really shocking in what it reveals about the riders (Personally, the book did nothing to convince me that some of USADA's methods are wrong and undermine the principles of due process).  Most of the cyclists mentioned in the book have also confessed and/ or have served suspensions for testing positive.  For me, the book doesn't really change the way I feel about Lance.  He's still an incredible athlete.  He still beat cancer.  He still inspires others.  And, he's got his own demons, challenges, and flaws.  Like any of us, he is neither good nor bad, just some combination of both.

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