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Tyler Hamilton shines a revealing light on cycling's drug era

"If I cheated, how did I get away with it?"

That question, posed to SI by Lance Armstrong five years ago, has never been answered more definitively than it is in Tyler Hamilton's new book, The Secret Race. Once a friend and top lieutenant of the Texan's on the U.S. Postal Service team, Hamilton details how his own career was fueled by PEDs and blood doping. There is Hamilton, on page 81, asking to borrow some EPO from Armstrong in 1999. "Lance pointed casually to the fridge. I opened it, and there, next to a carton of milk, was a carton of EPO, each stoppered vial standing upright, little soldiers in their cardboard cells."

Such passages will grab the most attention. (Armstrong hasn't publicly responded to any of Hamilton's charges.) But the most valuable contribution of the book, bolstered by the independent reporting of co-author Daniel Coyle, is to demonstrate how understandable it was for a pro bike rider in Europe in the mid-1990s to go to the dark side. Rampant EPO use had transformed middling talents into supermen. Teams riding pan y agua—on bread and water—had no shot.

Even as Hamilton expresses regret for his decision to dope, the reader fully grasps how and why he made it. Once he gets on "a program," he wins a Tour stage and takes a gold medal in the Olympics. But following a pair of positive tests for doping, he ends up disgraced and out of the sport.

In the end, he finds happiness and hard-earned wisdom that may catch Armstrong's eye, and give him pause. "Secrets are poison," Hamilton writes. "The truth really will set you free."