On original publication was the key tipping point for many people in switching them from believing in Armstrong’s innocence to certainty of his guilt. With the subsequent publication of a hugely detailed official investigation report and then Armstrong’s confession, The Secret Race has in some ways been overtaken by events.
However, it retains far more than simply curiosity value for it still paints a compelling picture of how just so many cyclists ended up cheating. When nearly all the other leading cyclists were already doping, new cyclists faced huge pressure to cheat too or get out and were immersed in a culture where cheating was fine. After three years of losing races to those who were cheating, Hamilton buckled and joined their ranks. Though he doesn’t mention it, his own cheating then in turn helped set the tone for the next batch of new young cyclists, putting the same pressures on them to dope that older cyclists had put on him.
This cycle of pressure may partly excuse Tyler Hamilton’s own record. But he did more than just dope. His record is one of cheating, denying it, lying, being banned and then going back to the cheating and lying. On that, Hamilton’s attempts to cling to his ‘but otherwise I was an honest person’ defence are less convincing, for he carried on the lying and cheating right up until he had almost no choice but to confess. His subsequent full cooperation is only a small recompense that he didn’t quit, confess or – even better – do both many years earlier.
Yet despite all that, his passion for cycling is infectious and his accounts of the racing, both legal and illegal, are thrilling, making this a very readable and enjoyable book. The actions of cycling authorities coming out pretty poorly, even if you view the allegations about Lance Armstrong paying the UCI in the most generous light possible. Huge increases in average race speeds did not trigger nearly enough suspicion and time and again it was the police and other law enforcement authorities who triggered the doping scandals though their diligence, and not the sport’s own enforcement activities which kept on missing things, even with tests that were farcically easy to avoid.