Tyler Hamilton’s new book details his life in the world of professional cycling and the pressures to use performance-enhancing drugs in order to win on the global stage. Bill Littlefield spoke with Hamilton and his co-author Daniel Coyne about The Secret Race.

Bill’s thoughts on The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs

For almost a decade, Tyler Hamilton competed at cycling’s top level.

For most of that time, he cheated.

But as he makes plain in The Secret Race, if he hadn’t cheated, he wouldn’t have competed at cycling’s top level.

Neither would anybody else.

According to Hamilton and his co-author, journalist Daniel Coyle, until very recently, inside the culture of pro cycling as represented in the Tour de France and the other important events, the consumption of performance-enhancing substances and the practice of blood-doping were taken for granted. More specifically, Hamilton reports that for decades it was impossible for anyone who wasn’t doping to seriously compete in – let alone win – an event that lasted longer than a week.

It’s not the element of surprise that makes The Secret Race compelling. It’s long been common knowledge that the world’s most celebrated cyclists, including Hamilton, have broken the rules of the sport. Scores of them have been caught and suspended. Lots of them have been stripped of their medals. But the details of Hamilton’s account are riveting. If, as Lance Armstrong has long maintained, Hamilton is lying and he has invented those details, he has a great career ahead of him as a novelist.

The light at the end of the very dark and often scary tunnel Hamilton and Coyle describe is their contention that cycling is cleaner now than it has been in several decades. Coyle points to the slower times logged in the most recent editions of the Tour as evidence that the so-called “arms race” in which teams and the doctors they employ constantly sought new and better performance-enhancing drugs is much less intense than it used to be.

Readers who have an interest in cycling will be interested in The Secret Race, certainly, but it also ought to be on the reading list of anyone who wants to learn more about how the necessity to win can distort and damage those competing in any sport, especially if the stakes are enormous.