Book Reviews: Racing Through the Dark, The Secret Race
I must admit to not having read most of the cycling memoirs in the Works. I may eventually but the local public library doesn’t carry any of them and never will so I’ll have to buy them or ask Frank to tote everything he has to Hawaii. I did get off my wallet and buy these two and it was money well spent. David Millar and Tyler Hamilton have produced two excellent cycling books, parallel stories in very general terms and times. The contrast of how two people in similar straits handle the truth and the divergent roads it puts them on is compelling.
Doping in professional cycling is still secretive enough that it is best told from someone all the way on the inside. Journalists will be lied to by cyclists. Federal grand juries do better at getting the truth but we usually don’t hear it. Cyclists who lived the lie and need to unburden themselves make a good conduit. I can’t begin to explain it as well as Tyler or David did; their inner world of professional cycling is nothing we hear much about. In the 1990s it was the wild west where the law was absent. Spanish “doctors”, syringes and mini-centrifuges ruled the day. It’s such a huge subject, too interwoven with passion and pressure, so much grey area. For a person like me who likes to talk about doping in black and white, I’ve learned how institutionalized and insidious it was (past tense, I hope). It’s not so simple. It’s tragic. To feed the young ambitious athlete into a system where there is no choice but to accept the drug system is criminal. When money is at stake and the UCI is complicit, as is team management, those are some criminals.
Racing Through the Dark-by David Millar. I’ll also admit to being a long time admirer of David Millar. He has always been well- spoken and not afraid to confront, two qualities I admire and personally lack, but they make a good writer. Millar is a military brat who found his cycling talent in the 10 mile British time trial club races. He ended up living his dream, riding on the Cofidis team, France’s well- funded but dysfunctional squad. He spent his first few years with Cofidis riding clean, yet watching how others “prepared”.
“In my youthful exuberance, I was telling anybody who would listen that I’d won in De Panne and broken the course record with a hematocrit of only 40 percent. I went to see Casagrande and his roommate, whom I refer to as L’Équipier (the teammate), so that I could show Casagrande the test results.
I stood there, a big grin on my face, expecting Casagrande to congratulate me and say something morale boosting. But he didn’t. After a pause, he handed the results back to me and then turned to speak to his roommate in Italian.
“Perché non é a cinquate?” Casagrande asked L’Équipier, puzzled, Why isn’t he at fifty?
No one talked about doping and no one talked about not doping. Eventually, after VDB self-destructed and Casagrande was busted, Millar became a team leader. And with that mantle came the responsibility to produce results, be a professional. And eventually he was implicated by a teammate, evidence was found, he was out of cycling, deeply in debt, and drinking his way to the bottom.
For some interesting video here is a recent Spanish documentary from the inner ring.
The Secret Race-by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. Tyler Hamilton and I grew up in the same end of Massachusetts, he went to the same prep school @rob and I dropped out of, so I always felt slightly connected to him. So I was a fan boy and stood by his fantastic excuses for too long.
The whole wretched story of doping in cycling is right here. Tyler Hamilton cheated and lied for so long, it took until 2011 before he could tell his parents the truth. And despite his decade of lying, this book rings true. His reward was getting out from under the lie. I think he would have written the book for free just for the unburdening. He states many times the lightness of being after testimony and though he knows it’s very unlikely, hopes Lance can feel the same lightness that comes from telling the truth. This book is Tyler Hamilton’s story but it is closely linked to part of the Armstrong saga.
Like Millar, Hamilton was unaware of systemic drug use until he had joined the professional ranks. US Postal drugs were at first team- provided and paid for. Once you proved yourself as one of the best riders on the team, as someone who could help Lance win the Tour, you earned the right to use EPO. It is fascinating reading, it’s horrifying, it’s depressing. Most unsettling is Lance Armstrong’s behavior. There are many revelations regarding Armstrong’s psychotic need to win. I’ll share just this one.
Tyler was eased out of US Postal because he was too strong a rider and perceived as a threat to Armstrong. So Tyler left and signed with Phonak in 2004. There was a time trial up Mont Ventoux in the 2004 Dauphiné Libéré weeks before the Tour de France. Tyler beat Lance in the TT. Later during the Tour, Floyd Landis, who was still riding for US Postal rode along side Tyler.
“You need to know something”
I pulled in closer. Floyd’s Mennonite conscience was bothering him.
“Lance called the UCI on you,” he said. “He called Hien, after Ventoux. Said you guys and Mayo were on some new shit, told Hien to get on you. He knew they’d call call you in. He’s been talking shit nonstop. And I think it’s right that you know.”
This little story is amazing for many different reasons and the only good one is Floyd Landis telling it to Tyler. I’m guilty of saying some negative things about Floyd, mostly because he was such an idiot liar. But at a point, when he has nothing to gain and he has lost everything else and he starts telling the truth, he gains back my respect, just like Tyler Hamilton has.
I ended up reading these books one right after the other. As I said before, I recommend them both. David Millar is a better writer. He actually has more demons to battle than Hamilton so his story of redemption is inspiring. Tyler Hamilton’s story is more depraved (in a doping sense) but both books are important. A lot of people in cycling are now admitting to past deeds in very unspecific terms. These two authors are both shining lights into some dark corners and making the inevitability of drug use in cycling more human and understandable. Also, in reading these books back to back, it highlights the contrast in how these two people dealt with their fates.
Both had the bad luck to be nearly singled out as dopers when a large percent of the riders were dopers. Millar realized it was the doping that killed his passion for even riding a bike. He took no joy in his EPO-assisted victories, only a temporary satisfaction that the task at hand was completed. He decided to come clean and to become an advocate for clean racing and changing the corrupt system.
Hamilton could not admit to anyone but his wife (who already knew) that he had been a cheat. His lie was so crushing he couldn’t even see a way out. He then spent all his money and energy protecting the lie for years, for nothing, obviously. It was the threat of perjury in that finally broke open the dam. It’s a cruel lesson to learn; the truth will set you free, even if it takes forever.