Why The Secret Race had to be the judges' choice as William Hill Sports Book of the Year for 2012


The Secret Race, the jaw-dropping expose about the drug-taking, blood-doping, cheating and cover-ups that revealed so much of professional cycling's recent history to be a sham, had to win the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award for 2012, in the words of the judging panel, because it "fundamentally changed the sport being written about".

It was to a large extent the evidence of former Olympic champion and leading Tour de France rider Tyler Hamilton to a grand jury after US federal prosecutors pursued a two-year investigation into allegations of doping against Lance Armstrong that led this year to the announcement by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that Armstrong should be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life.

That evidence is outlined in all its disturbing detail in The Secret Race, which Hamilton, who was Armstrong's teammate in the US Postal Team, had begun writing in collaboration with journalist and author Daniel Coyle in 2009, when he decided after almost a decade wrestling with his conscience over what he knew that it was time to come clean.

In presenting the award at Waterstone's in Piccadilly, London, television presenter John Inverdale, speaking on behalf of the judging panel of which he is a member, said that in some ways he wished The Secret Race had never been written, given every ugly truth and the devastating betrayal of cycling fans it has brought to light.

"It starts off being a book about Tyler and then it is about Lance (Armstrong) and then Tyler and Lance and by the end you wish this book had not had to be read," Inverdale said.

"You wish these kind of things were not in sport and therefore this kind of book did not have to be written but they are.
"It took me a long time to come clean but I'm proud I that I finally did the right thing" -- Tyler Hamilton

"Tyler and Daniel have written a stunning book about cycling and all the good, the bad and the ugly of it.

"It is not a prerequisite of a book to change a sport but this book clearly had done that and as such it was the book that had to win because it has fundamentally changed the sport it is writing about."

Hamilton, twice banned from cycling himself and stripped of the gold medal he won at the 2004 Olympics, spoke of his feelings being a mixture of pride and regret and made reference to one of the moments that persuaded him finally to come clean.

"In the year I began working with Dan on this project my young nephew came up to me and he told me he had been riding his bike with my brother and he wanted to become a professional cyclist," he recalled.  "Deep down inside it broke my heart because I knew what the culture was like in cycling at the time.  I didn't really know what to say to him.

"Unfortunately it took me a long time to come clean but I'm proud that I finally did the right thing.  Writing this book actually gives me a lot of hope for the future, a lot of hope for the sport."

The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, published by Bantam Press, is the 24th winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, which is the longest running award for sports writing in the world.

The winner receives a £24,000 cash prize, a £2,000 William Hill bet, a specially-commissioned hand-bound copy of their book and a day at the races.

The Secret Race was chosen from a shortlist of seven in what had been one of the most diverse fields in the history of the award and Inverdale said that the outstanding merits of them all had made choosing the best a difficult task.

Adharanand Finn's Running With the Kenyans, Rick Broadbent's That Near-Death Thing, the Simon Jordan tale Be Careful What You Wish For, Miles Jupp's Fibber in the Heat, the triathlete Chrissie Wellington's autobiography A Life Without Limits and the self-published Shot and a Ghost, by squash star James Willstrop had to be content with falling in behind The Secret Race but Inverdale was not short of compliments for them all.

That Near-Death Thing – Inside the TT: The World’s Most Dangerous Race, by Rick Broadbent (Orion)

That Near-Death Thing, Inverdale said, was "spellbindingly brilliant even if you are not a motorcycling fan."

"No book was actually better named because the theme that runs through the book is of people dying, or people almost dying or people dicing with death," he said.

"If you are not a motorcycling fan, the chances of you picking up a book about the Isle of Man TT are probably not very high.  But I found it absolutely captivating to the point where the first thing I did was to find out the dates of next year's Isle of Man TT because I really want to go.  The characters are so rich, the people who actually take part in the race, from such diverse backgrounds but united by this mania, almost, to put their lives on the line. Rick just captures it brilliantly."

Running With the Kenyans - Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth, by Adharanand Finn (Faber & Faber)

Inverdale described Running With the Kenyans as "a lovely, human book" but one which enriched his knowledge in different ways.

"If you come from the part of London I live in where you are a jogger and a very slow jogger you get heartily fed up with Kenyans of various ages just hurtling past you when they are only jogging as well," he said.

"Adharanand Finn went out to Kenya as a runner himself to see if there was some magical, mystical potion they take or if it is in the blood or the genes.  But you don't just find out about Kenyan runners, you find out a lot about Kenya and you feel much more rich in terms of your knowledge about that part of Africa.  I'm not sure he reaches a conclusion but all the factors are there and it is really a lovely, human book too about moving his family out there."

Be Careful What You Wish For, by Simon Jordan (Yellow Jersey)

About Be Careful What You Wish For, in which Simon Jordan describes how, as a young, brash and hugely successful entrepreneur he managed to lose his fortune by buying Crystal Palace Football Club, Inverdale said that the book destroyed the preconceptions of some of the judges after only a few pages.

"I would be lying if I said there were not people on the panel who did not have preconceptions about a book by Simon Jordan, a larger than life football chairman," he said. "But all I can say is that those preconceptions were banished quickly.

"If you are a football fan and you have not read this book you are missing out.  With all that has been written about football, there are not many books now in which you know by page 300 a lot, lot more about the game than you did on page one."

Fibber in the Heat, by Miles Jupp (Ebury Press)

With Fibber in the Heat, in which the actor and comedian Miles Jupp describes how he effectively bluffed his way into the English press corps on England's 2006 cricket tour of India, Inverdale says he had preconceptions of a different kind.

"With this one you know you are going to enjoy it, because Miles is a comedian and a huge cricket fan. He set out to do what all of us would love to do, which is to go on an England cricket tour and see it from the inside, meeting the players, seeing the commentators.

"Miles bluffs his way in as the cricket correspondent of BBC Scotland and that's the premise for a book which goes from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again.  If Simon Jordan's book is compulsory reading for football fans then if you have a cricket fan in your family it is the perfect present."

A Life Without Limits – A World Champion’s Journey, by Chrissie Wellington with Michael Aylwin (Constable & Robinson)

Chrissie Wellington's A Life Without Limits, Inverdale said, is as "as good a book as she is a triathlete" in the way that the four-times Ironman World Champion charts the transformation that took place in her life after he ran her first marathon aged 25. 

"In many ways some of the great bits about this book are about Chrissie's early life, her childhood, her teenage years, her further education years and a lot of people of course can empathise with that more readily than knowing how it feels to be a supreme triathlete," he said.

"In her mid-twenties she is barely a sportsperson and yet within a few years she is on top of the world.  I know a lot of people who have read this book and found it tremendously empowering, thinking 'that could have been me in my early 20s and I did nothing about it and she did.'"  

Shot and a Ghost: A Year in the Brutal World of Professional Squash, by James Willstrop with Rod Gilmour (James Willstrop / Rod Gilmour)

Shot and a Ghost, the book that Britain's squash world number one, James Willstrop, self-published in collaboration with journalist Rod Gilmour had been likened by award co-founder John Gaustad to "like making a pop record in your garage that goes to number one". It is the first self-published title to make the shortlist, which says a good deal about the merits of the writing.

Willstrop is currently competing in Hong Kong and could not attend the awards presentation but Inverdale commented that one of the book's strengths was that it was written in "brutally honest" terms by a sportsman still at the top of his game.

"Rarely do you read a book by someone still participating in sport at the highest level that tells you what it is really like to be there, in the eye of the storm and to succeed and sometimes to fail," Inverdale said.

"When you read it you are suddenly a squash player, playing every shot.  When he is lying in his bed at night beating his fist into the pillow because he has lost a game he should have won you are sharing those emotions with him.  He is brutally honest with himself, sharing every moment as he calls himself a moron and an idiot for missing a vital shot. You are right inside the head of the world number one squash player."

Inverdale was one of six judges on the William Hill panel, the others being 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 long-lamented Sportspages bookshop.

For Rick Broadbent, the Times journalist who spent many hours with four TT riders to write That Near-Death Thing, it was a second time on the shortlist.  At least there was a consolation prize for publishers Orion in that Rich Norgate won the prize for the Best Sports Book Cover Design.

To buy 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, or 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 (Shot and a Ghost)
Tyler Hamilton and the Lance Armstrong scandal (The Secret Race)
A cheeky adventure turns into a cautionary tale (Fibber in the Heat)
Fatal attraction of the world's most dangerous race (That Near-Death Thing)
One man's quest to learn the secrets of the swiftest (Running With the Kenyans)
Buy a football club and lose a fortune - a chairman's tale (Be Careful What You Wish For)
A world champion's secret triumph (A Life Without Limits)



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