Lance Armstrong, his former wingman and roommate, said that Tyler Hamilton’s writing a tell-all book about doping in cycling is “greedy, opportunistic, and self-serving.” The president of the international federation wondered, “What’s the objective of him coming clean”? And his former teammates and rivals, Hamilton observes, have maintained “an almost eerie silence.”
But the man from Marblehead has no apologies for exposing his sport’s dirty underwear three years after he got off the bike.
“It’s all out there,” the 41-year-old Hamilton declared over breakfast at a downtown Boston hotel recently. “People can read it and believe me or not believe me. It was an ugly world we went through. I’m proud of not holding anything back, but it’s a sad story.”
Hamilton testified about that story before a federal grand jury two summers ago and talked about it on “60 Minutes” last year. But in “The Secret Race,” which he co-authored with Daniel Coyle and which was published this month by Bantam Books, Hamilton provides what he calls “the full Monty” — nearly 300 pages of names, dates, and dosages.
Had he not been subpoenaed, Hamilton says, he likely would have kept mum about what he did and saw others do during his eight years on the elite professional tour in Europe, half of them as one of Armstrong’s chief lieutenants.
“The Secret Race” details how team doctors and trainers colluded with cyclists to monitor their red-blood-cell levels and found creative ways to supply them with drugs during events, including having a motorcycle rider follow the Tour de France with a thermos. Meanwhile, the sport maintained a conspiracy of silence.
“In my career, there were only two guys who were outspoken against doping,” said Hamilton. “One Italian and one Frenchman, and both got quickly shunned out of the sport.”
Hamilton himself held to cycling’s code of omerta, even after he retired.
“It was killing me inside, but if you’d asked me back then, I was planning on taking it to the grave,” he said. “I was too proud for my own good, but also I wanted to protect, because as you can see in the book, there’s a lot of people involved.
“Do I feel bad that I called them out? I guess yes, but I feel I have a right to because it’s my story and I have the right to tell the truth. And if I didn’t use their names, then it’s not really being open and honest.”
The most prominent name is Armstrong, whom Hamilton portrays as a longtime doper whose savvy and connections helped him beat the system until last month, when the US Anti-Doping Agency stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him and several former US Postal Service team associates for life.
Hamilton said that Armstrong vowed to “make your life a living [expletive] hell” when he confronted him at a Colorado restaurant last year.
“But he never said I lied,” Hamilton observed. “He called me a bunch of names but he never said, ‘You liar.’ And he still hasn’t to this day.”
‘It’s easy to justify’
Armstrong’s ban came two weeks after the International Olympic Committee formally stripped Hamilton of the gold medal that he won in the time trial at the 2004 Games in Athens. It was the final chapter of Hamilton’s personal Greek tragedy, which included doping bans of two and eight years, an estimated $1 million in legal fees, and a divorce. He’d already given back the medal because “when I looked at it, it made me sad.”
Hamilton had been hailed as a hero when he returned to Marblehead after the Games. What he didn’t know was that he’d tested positive for a blood transfusion and likely would have had the gold medal taken away if the Athens lab hadn’t ruined his backup sample by freezing it. Yet from the time he began doping, Hamilton found limited joy in his triumphs.
“I never felt completely comfortable when I did well and I was on the podium,” he said. “I never felt 100 percent great about it.
“When I won the gold medal I felt, hey, I beat the guys who most likely were doing the same thing I was doing.”
By then, Hamilton already had concluded that if he wanted to beat the cheaters, he had to cheat himself.
“It’s easy to justify,” he said, “but it still doesn’t make it right.”
It took 1,000 days as a professional for Hamilton to decide that he needed to take drugs to keep up with the leaders.
“One thousand mornings of waking up with hope; a thousand afternoons of being crushed,” he wrote in “The Secret Race.” “A thousand days of getting signals that doping is okay, signals from powerful people you trust and admire, signals that say ‘It’ll be fine’ and ‘Everybody’s doing it.’ And beneath all that, the fear that if you don’t find some way to ride faster, then your career is over.”
A star is born
So in 1997, after the Tour of Valencia, Hamilton “joined the brotherhood” and took a small red testosterone pill. “This is not doping,” said the team doctor who offered it to him. “This is for your health. To help you recover.”
Next was a micro-dose of EPO (erythropoietin), a blood-booster that cyclists refer to as “Edgar” and “Poe.” Then bigger and more frequent doses. Then, after word arrived that the labs had developed a test for EPO, came the transfusions.
“Back when I started, it was a little pill here, a little shot there,” said Hamilton. “It was practically nothing, but it constantly grew and then it got almost out of control. Looking back, it was disgusting.”
Had he known later what taking the first pill would lead to, Hamilton said, he would have gotten on a plane back to Boston.
“I did know I was crossing the line but it seemed like nothing,” he said. “I did choose to swallow it. I could have not swallowed it.”
But the drugs and the transfusions were producing results.
After he helped Armstrong win a third straight Tour in 2001, Hamilton moved on to CSC, where he became team leader and then to Phonak and a seven-figure contract. He was no longer a “domestique,” a paid servant whose job was to help the star win. Hamilton now was a star himself, with the responsibility to stay that way, so he hired notorious Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes to supply him with drugs and transfusions.
The doping was a ticking time bomb and he knew it.
“I didn’t want to do it too much longer,” Hamilton said. “The more experienced I got as a professional, the more stressful it got. It was no life you could continue to live.”
That life essentially ended three weeks after his Olympic triumph, when he tested positive for another transfusion at the Spanish Vuelta.
“Everyone who knows me as a person knows I didn’t do this,” Hamilton proclaimed while challenging his two-year ban.
He was lying then and he admits it now. The most difficult part, Hamilton said, was telling his family before his “60 Minutes” appearance that he’d been lying to them all along.
“That was one of the worst parts of the whole thing,” he said. “It was awful but it was super-cleansing, to be honest.”
After those turbulent and tormented years, he is off the bike and out of the race.
“It feels nice, starting out fresh,” said Hamilton, who married Framingham native Lindsay Dyan last November and is living in Montana while mapping out his road ahead. “I’ve emptied out my guilt.
“People can continue to dislike or hate me or forgive me or whatever they want. But at least I’ve come out and I’ve told the truth, and it’s out there and I’m happy.”