Book Review – The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France


I first heard of this book when I was in France last summer. Of course everybody already knew that pretty much the whole peloton was on drugs, but Hamilton’s book presents a lot of the hows and whys.

When I got back from France I bought the book and finally had a chance to read it and wow – the things these guys do to themselves are absolutely crazy. At least to us mortals.

Hamilton tells the story of how difficult it is to be at the top levels of pro cycling, and just exactly what it took to get there, and stay there.

Of the most interest to me was how they knew how to beat most of the doping tests, and always stayed one step ahead of the testers.

Hamilton is brutal on himself as well, which is refreshing. He fully admits he cheated and while pointing the finger at other riders, is always sure to point the finger at himself first and hardest.

This book was written before Lance came out and finally admitted to doping, and there is an afterword in the current edition that speaks to this part of the saga.

I still feel that these guys are all doping in one way or another – I just don’t see how they can do what they do without it. In fact, I would just assume that at this point all major college and pro athletes are getting “help” in one fashion or another.

This book is very easy to read and explains some pretty interesting things about how the different drugs do what they do, and how they do it. It also explains how blood transfusions help the riders out, and how the doctors were pretty sophisticated for the most part in spreading out the drug doses and transfusions to beat the testers.

There is also a lot of cloak and dagger stuff in the book, describing how they were able to acquire the drugs and blood, how they stored them, transported them, and how the drugs and blood bags were administered.

I am sure that almost all of the riders from this part of cycling history will have major adverse health issues later in life – and some are already dead or are having major problems. One cancer doctor that I rode with in France said that it was his opinion that Lance highly increased his chances of getting testicular cancer from the drugs he took, and that after beating cancer and taking more drugs that Lance’s chances of getting that disease again are very high.

All for fame and money. Sigh.

If you are interested in cycling and/or want an easy to understand read about how the drug culture in that sport worked I highly recommend this book. The only question it left me with was that I now wonder what these guys are on now.

Cross posted at LITGM.

18 thoughts on “Book Review – The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France by Tyler Hamilton”

  1. “All for fame and money. Sigh.”

    Dan, for far too many people, that’s all there is. I think that there will be even more of this cheating behavior as time passes and all the “special snowflakes” realize that they’re not so special after all.

  2. @Mike – from what I can tell, when the gravy train grinds to its inevitable halt for most of these guys, the famous ones teach others how to train and work at bike shops. The not so famous ones, well…they mostly just blend into the countryside, their bodies hosting who knows what sort of things to be made evident later in life.

  3. Jonathan, “Maybe I’m too cynical.”

    I suspect that, in this day and age, there is no such thing as “too cynical”.

    Dan, my comment was poorly put. I meant to refer to the population in general, not just the elite bicycle guys. Far too many people think they are indeed “special” and MEANT to be the best at whatever they want to do, without the work and time required. Therefore, shortcuts, of whatever type, are just fine.

  4. “The only question it left me with was that I now wonder what these guys are on now.”

    Nothing that won’t be available to mundanes in a few years.

  5. There was an interesting program some years ago on the lives of these East German swimmers that were doped up on steroids – the ones that aren’t dead look …. strange.

    As to Lance I wonder who the would award his returned medals too…

    If they were honest it would be some guy who officially came in….23rd or so.

  6. @Dan – I have to agree – and the cynical part of me wonders to whom they should award Armstrong’s medals

    You like serious riding – I have gone with my car club up Mt Diablo – a 4,000′ peak visible in the Bay Area for 100s of miles. There is a road going up there – if I could post pictures I’d show you – but there are cyclists who ride up there – spoke to one who rode 2x in 1 day – 4000′ from about sea level –

    The Amgen race has that as part of the course.

    You’d have to be on something to survive that in a race ;-)

  7. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the “post-concussion” brain findings in ex-NFL players were due to growth hormone or some other substance. I still recall Lyle Alzado’s tumor and how much it had to do with amateur pharmacy. There was a lot of speculation at the time.

  8. @Mike – I remember interviews with Lyle after he was diagnosed – had a bandana over his head. Pretty sad seeing his slow decline considering what he was.

  9. Robert Schwartz – that is the take that all of the riders had at the time. In my opinion they either need to go one way or the other – lifetime bans for first offense, or just let everyone do as many drugs as they like. Right now there is simply too much in between. If you get popped for drugs, no big deal, just serve your suspension and get back into it.

  10. “All for fame and money. Sigh.”

    My creativity does not extend to realistically imagining a society in which the overwhelming majority of its members subscribe to monastic and stoic ideals: fame, sex, wealth and hierarchy are human nature, and, as Homer Simpson said of beer, the cause of and solution to all of our problems.

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