Daniel Coyle takes a look at the Tour de France and the state of professional cycling with the help of Tyler Hamilton, a former cyclist who was found guilty of doping and exiled from the sport. Here’s an excerpt.
In June of 2010, I flew to Denver to meet Tyler Hamilton. When I walked out of the terminal I saw him behind the wheel of a silver SUV. Hamilton’s boyishness had weathered into something harder; his hair was longer and showed flecks of gray; the corners of his eyes held small, deep wrinkles. As we drove off, he cracked open a tin of chewing tobacco.
“I’ve been trying to quit. It’s a filthy habit, I know. But with all the stress, it helps. Or at least it feels like it does.”
We tried one restaurant, but Hamilton decided it was too crowded, and chose an emptier one down the block. Hamilton picked out a booth at the back, two candles burning on the table. He looked around. Then the man who could tolerate any pain — the one who’d ground his teeth down to the roots rather than quit — suddenly looked as if he was going to start crying. Not from grief, but from relief.
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“Sorry,” he said after a few seconds. “It just feels so good to be able to talk about this, finally.”
I started with the big question: Why had Hamilton lied before, about his own doping? Hamilton closed his eyes. He opened them again; I could see the sadness.Video: Teammate: Lance Armstrong failed drug tests (on this page)
“Look, I lied. I thought it would cause the least damage. Put yourself in my shoes. If I had told the truth, everything’s over. The team sponsor would pull out, and fifty people, fifty of my friends, would lose their jobs. People I care about. If I told the truth, I’d be out of the sport, forever. My name would be ruined. And you can’t go partway — you can’t just say, Oh, it was only me, just this one time. The truth is too big, it involves too many people. You’ve either got to tell 100 percent or nothing. There’s no in-between. So yeah, I chose to lie. I’m not the first to do that, and I won’t be the last. Sometimes if you lie enough you start to believe it.”
Hamilton told me how, a few weeks before, he’d been subpoenaed by the investigation, placed under oath, and put on the stand in a Los Angeles courtroom.Video: Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace (on this page)
“Before I went in I thought about it, a long time. I knew I couldn’t lie to them, no way. So I decided that if I was going to tell the truth, I was going to go all the way. One hundred percent, full disclosure. I made up my mind that no question was going to stop me. That’s what I did. I testified for seven hours. I answered everything they asked to the best of my ability. They kept asking me about Lance — they wanted me to point the finger at him. But I always pointed it at myself first. I made them understand how the whole system worked, got developed over the years, and how you couldn’t single one person out. It was everybody. Everybody.”
Hamilton rolled up his right and left sleeves. He put his palms up and extended his arms. He pointed to the crook of his elbows, to matching spidery scars that ran along his veins. “We all have scars like this,” he said. “It’s like a tattoo from a fraternity. When I got tan they’d show up and I’d have to lie about it; I’d tell people I cut my arm in a crash.”Story: Lance Armstrong teammate: I have ‘smoking gun’ he doped
I asked how he avoided testing positive for all those years, and Hamilton gave a dry laugh.
“The tests are easy to beat,” he said. “We’re way, way ahead of the tests. They’ve got their doctors, and we’ve got ours, and ours are better. Better paid, for sure. Besides, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale, the sport’s governing body) doesn’t want to catch certain guys anyway. Why would they? It’d cost them money.”
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I asked why he wanted to tell his story now.Story: Soccer star shares story in 'Solo: A Memoir of Hope'
“I’ve been quiet for so many years,” he said. “I buried it inside for so long. I’ve never really told it from beginning to end before, and so I’d never really seen it, or felt it. So once I started telling the truth, it was like this huge dam bursting inside me. And it feels so, so good to tell, I can’t tell you how fantastic it feels. It felt like this giant weight is off my back, finally, and when I feel that, I know it’s the right thing to do, for me and for the future of my sport.”
The next morning, Hamilton and I met in my hotel room. I set out three ground rules.
1. No subject would be off limits.
2. Hamilton would give me access to his journals, photos, and sources.
3. All facts would have to be independently confirmed whenever possible.
He agreed without hesitation.
Excerpted from "The Secret Race" by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle Copyright © 2012 by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive