Inside track on a wretched life of endless lying and constant vigilance
GENERAL:Away from the mainstream, some of the best offerings this year are on two wheels. The planets have aligned for cycling literature just now, just not exactly in the way the sport might have chosen. For the casual sports reader, there has never been a better time to reach for a cycling book. Two separate but concurrent phenomena have brought us to this point – the collapse of the doping house of cards and the inexorable rise of the British machine.
To the grotty world of the needles and the damage done first. The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle(Bantam Press) was a much-deserved winner of the William Hill prize in the UK. It isn’t the first book to take the public inside the world of a peloton that was rife with doping throughout the late ’90s and the last decade but it surely the most detailed and most revealing.
Hamilton was Lance Armstrong’s war-time consigliere in the US Postal team, his almost freakish ability to endure pain making him a worthy foil for the toughest days in the mountains.
His climbing ability meant he was part of Armstrong’s A-Team, privy to the caste-within-caste system of doping in professional cycling where the idea that ‘they were all at it’ holds true but only up to a point. Hamilton was one of those animals who were more equal than others, who had to submit to the strictures of Dr Michele Ferrari and who got the best of the best when it came to pharmaceutical help.
His book lays bare the world that leads a cyclist like him to a point where EPO use and blood-spinning aren’t so much a Hobson’s Choice as a wholly logical next step. The sheer drudgery involved with a life of endless lying and constant vigilance is depressing, although the ease with which Hamilton and his cohorts sailed through years of doping controls will make you roll your eyes at the next person you hear using the lack of a positive test as proof of anything. You might not have much sympathy for Hamilton after reading it – and you certainly won’t have any for Armstrong – but you will better understand the life of a doped-up cyclist.
The world of Armstrong and Hamilton and the rest is the one that, fairly or not, Bradley Wiggins is charged with pulling cycling out of.
It’s not a job he particularly relishes yet his autobiography, My Time(Yellow Jersey Press), written with William Fotheringham, shows a level of self-awareness that suggests he’s gradually making his peace with it. You can’t win the Tour de France at such a slight remove from the Armstrong era without facing down the doping question and Wiggins doesn’t try.
There’s interesting stuff here about how Team Sky went about competing as a drug-free team in a doping-heavy world. Dave Brailsford estimated early on that a cyclist who systematically dopes has a 15 per cent advantage on one who stays clean and some of the best bits of the book detail how they went about making up that 15 per cent.