Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book review: The secret race

Lance Armstrong was right. It wasn't about the bike. It was about the EPO, testosterone and blood doping. After years of denials and hundreds of thousands of dollars (more likely millions) in legal bills, Mr. Armstrong gave up the fight against the USADA. As a result the UCI (international cycling body) stripped Mr. Armstrong of his record seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

Yes, I know there are those who still swear that Lance did nothing wrong (my wife is one of them). Those who still believe in Lance are either naive or blind to reality. For an inside look at the reality of bike racing you might want to take a look at The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle.

Mr. Hamilton, who was busted for doping, broke the code of silence of the peleton and revealed just what the top riders in the world did to put themselves in position to win the most coveted bike race in the world.

Tyler Hamilton and Lance Armstrong were teammates on the US Postal Service team. Hamilton served as Armstrong's loyal lieutenant guiding him the mountains and protecting him from attacks from the field.

The Secret Race takes us behind the curtain and into a secretive world of doctors, science and cheating on a scale you just won't believe.

Doping was so pervasive in the late 90's and into the 2000's that the UCI has refused to name a winner for the Tour de France from 1999-2005. In the seven years that Lance Armstrong won the race, 20 of the 21 racers who wound up on the podium have been implicated in cheating.

The obvious question, however, is should it even matter that Armstrong cheated? Professional sports long ago stopped being about the sport. It's all about the marketing now. Companies are willing to spend millions of dollars to put their name on a biker's shirt or shorts (or on the driving suit of a race car driver). Television networks are willing to spend insane amounts of money to purchase the right to broadcast a sporting event because they know there are plenty of advertisers who will be more than happy to pony up a bunch of money for the privilege of running an ad during the telecast.

All of that money flowing into the sport puts tremendous pressure on athletes to find whatever edge they can in order to stay at the top of their craft. It doesn't matter whether we're talking football, baseball, track and field or bike racing, if you're not pushing the envelope and stretching the rules as far as you can, you risk being left behind.

The Secret Race will open your eyes to the secret world of bike racing, but it will also make you take a second look at the public persona of Lance Armstrong. There is the Lance you see on television and in the press - and then there's the Lance the rest of the peleton knew. I'm sure it goes with the territory but the Lance depicted in the book is egotistical, manipulative, insecure and very, very cunning.

You won't look at the yellow bracelet the same again.

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