Armstrong scandal makes The Secret Race the bestseller among shortlisted contenders for 'bookie prize'

Who wins the William Hill Sports Book of the Year for 2012 is entirely down to the panel of judges but if their assessment of the seven titles shortlisted is a reflection of sales figures then Tyler Hamilton's Tour de France exposé The Secret Race will take the prize.

According to data compiled by Nielsen Bookscan, more than 10,500 copies of The Secret Race were sold in only six weeks following its UK publication in mid-September by Bantam Press.

Most of these sales came before the United States Anti-Doping Agency effectively endorsed the accusations Hamilton makes in the book by branding seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong a "serial cheat" on the basis of testimony offered under oath by Hamilton and others.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, written with the help of former Armstrong biographer Daniel Coyle, came about after Hamilton, himself a self-confessed drugs cheat, decided he would come clean about cycling's murky past.  It reveals the sport's dirtiest secrets in unvarnished detail, with particular focus on what he saw and was party to during his time riding alongside Armstrong on the US Postal team.

However, Hamilton's book is not the only one on the shortlist with sales figures in excess of 10,000.

It took her autobiography, A Life Without Limits, almost eight months to reach that number, but Chrissie Wellington is only just behind Hamilton in Nielsen's figures, compiled from data supplied by more than 90 per cent of UK book retailers in both the High Street and online.

Given that her athletic prowess has never enjoyed the benefits of wide publicity -- her fourth Ironman world triathlon title in October last year merited only three paragraphs in The Independent, for example -- it is a reflection of how her remarkable story caught the public imagination that A Life Without Limits has sold steadily ever since it was published by Constable in February.

Wellington was almost 30 before she even thought about becoming a professional athlete. She had been a girl who was good at many sports but never particularly excelled in any. But when she was invited to take part in a 'duathlon' race -- combining mountain-biking with off-road running -- while backpacking in Argentina in 2006, she surprised herself by winning it, even though there were professionals in the field.
The former civil servant from Bury St Edmunds lined up for her first Ironman triathlon 18 months later and her debut victory was seen as an astonishing achievement given the nature of the event, which is made up of a 2.4 mile open water swim, an 112-mile cycle race and a full 26.2 mile marathon run, all on the same day.

The Olympic triathlon won by Alistair Brownlee at London 2012 is a breeze by comparison, combining a 1,500m swim, a 43km bike ride and a 10km run.

Wellington, who is currently taking a sabbatical from competition, is undefeated in 13 races over the Ironman distance.

The William Hill award, now in its 24th year, has been won twice by a cycling title.  By coincidence, the first of those, A Rough Ride, by Paul Kimmage, which triumphed way back in 1990, also gained notoriety for exposing the use of drugs in the sport.  Somewhat ironically, Lance Armstrong was the winner in 2000 with It's Not About the Bike, which documented his recovery from cancer.

Should Wellington win, however, it would be a first success for an athletics book.

The full shortlist is:

  • That Near-Death Thing – Inside the TT: The World’s Most Dangerous Race, by Rick Broadbent (Orion)
  • Running with the Kenyans – Discovering The Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth, by Adharanand Finn (Faber)
  • The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle (Bantam Press)
  • Be Careful What You Wish For, by Simon Jordan (Yellow Jersey)
  • Fibber in the Heat, by Miles Jupp (Ebury Press)
  • A Life Without Limits – A World Champion’s Journey, by Chrissie Wellington with Michael Aylwin (Constable & Robinson)
  • Shot and a Ghost: A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash, by James Willstrop with Rod Gilmour (James Willstrop / Rod Gilmour)

The longlisted titles that did not make the cut were:

Iron War – Dave Scott, Mark Allen & the Greatest Race Ever Run, by Matt Fitzgerald (Quercus);
The Footballer Who Could Fly, by Duncan Hamilton (Century); A Weight Off My Mind – My Autobiography, by Richard Hughes with Lee Mottershead (Racing Post); The Dirtiest Race in History – Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final, by Richard Moore (Wisden Sports Writing); Between the Lines – The Autobiography, by Victoria Pendleton with Donald McRae (HarperSport); Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton (Particular Books); Jonny: My Autobiography, by Jonny Wilkinson with Owen Slot (Headline).

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award is the world's longest established and most valuable literary prize for sports writing.  As well as a £24,000 cash prize, the winning author will receive a £2,000 William Hill bet, a specially-commissioned hand-bound copy of their book and a day at the races.

Only books published for the first time in the UK between September 30, 2011 and September 29, 2012 were considered.  Shortlisted authors will receive £3,000 cash, a leather-bound copy of their book, and a free £1,000 bet. Longlisted authors will receive a free £500 bet and a certificate.

The judging panel for this year’s award consists of broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; footballer and chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Clarke Carlisle; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The winner will be announced at a lunchtime reception at Waterstones Piccadilly (London), Europe’s largest bookstore, on Monday, November 26.

For more information and to buy any of the short and long-listed titles, visit the William Hill 2012 page at The Sports Bookshelf Shop.

More reading:

James Willstrop -- Hidden star of the sport the Olympics left behind
Why Bobby Charlton's handshake meant so much to author Duncan Hamilton
Tyler Hamilton reveals all
Hamilton and McRae go head to head for 'bookie prize'



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