Tuesday, October 09, 2012

No Wizard of Oz on a Bike

When Toto pulled back the curtain and exposed the man behind "The Great and Powerful Oz", viewers were saddened and disheartened for Dorothy and her friends. The same sobering feeling affected me recently after reading former pro cyclist Tyler Hamilton's "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups and Winning at All Costs". 

As a result, I have taken off my Lance Armstrong Livestrong bracelet, which has adorned my wrist continuously for the last seven years. I loved the Tour, admired Lance, wanted to believe his claims of innocence. I don't anymore. It was traumatic, believe me, but my bracelet had to come off after reading Tyler Hamilton's account of the sport-wide culture of doping in pro cycling.

Now Tyler didn't have a stellar reputation: after all, he was a doper himself who was caught lying and banned. But his powerful and forthright account of rider transfusions, testosterone and EPO use in the peleton during the late 90s and 2000s in Europe is both credible and depressing. "The Secret Race" is a game-changer book, backed up by others' testimony and the exhaustive research of his co-author Daniel Coyle.

Someone once said that cycling is like sausage: You love it, but you don't want to know how it's made. Well, you certainly know the manufacturing process after reading this book. Tyler Hamilton writes without arrogance or excuses, explaining why he doped (and lied) and why every top rider did the same thing.  The only alternative to cheating, if you wanted to stay clean, was to finish at the back of the pack or retire. If a team had clever directors, the right doctors, and enough money to cover the logistics, its riders could stay ahead of the testers and the tests, or make payoffs to authorities to cover up transgressions.

It's hard for a huge fan of Lance Armstrong, such as myself, to turn the corner and realize that he's lied for years about his own doping, but it was even more difficult to read Tyler's accounts of his many interactions with Lance over the years. Armstrong is revealed as a domineering,vindictive, narcissistic bully whose threatening tactics ruined careers and reputations. "The Secret Race" is an absorbing, fascinating, and deeply disturbing book. I did find Tyler's story completely believable and feel betrayed by Lance Armstrong's repeated claims of innocence to this day. I regret my admiration for the man and now sadly feel that his seven Tour de France victories should be expunged.

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