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New review: The Secret Race (Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle)

Note; I withdrew my review of Lance Armstrong's book It's Not About the Bike (a somewhat ironic choice of title, in retrospect) a few years ago, when knowledge of his extensive doping became public. I've now reinstated it in the light of Tyler's account which he gives in the present book. The two reviews should be read together.

By now the widespread incidence of corruption and illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional cycling is well known. This book provides one of the best inside accounts of what went on when the practice was all but universal.

Tyler Hamilton was a top-ranking racing cyclist who was famed for his endurance and ability to tolerate pain. He finished fourth in the 2003 Tour de France, in spite of riding with a broken collar bone for most of the race - an injury that made him grind eleven of his teeth down to the roots because of the pain.

During his time with the U.S, Postal team he was a close associate of Lance Armstrong, whom he got to know exceptionally well. His support played a major role in helping Lance to win the first three of his seven victories in the Tour. Tyler won the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but six weeks later his career came to an abrupt end when he failed a doping test. He eventually confessed to having used drugs for years, throughout most his career; he also made it clear that most professional cyclists of the time, including Lance, had done the same. More

Removal of my review of Lance Armstrong's book

I've been reflecting for several weeks on whether to remove my review of Lance Armstrong's autobiographical book, It's Not About the Bike, but now that he's publicly admitted that he was involved in doping in all his seven Tour victories I think it must come out.

The book isn't only about cycling; it also describes his experience of undergoing treatment for cancer, and perhaps it might just be worth retaining for that reason. But he does explicitly deny that his Tour wins were based on cheating, and in view of that I think the only thing to do is to delete the review.

More on Bradley Wiggins and helmets

We're now being told that Wiggins has backtracked and says he was misquoted. Quite possibly he was ambushed by a journo and answered without thinking. If so, it's understandable given that he has been catapulted into fame within a space of about two weeks.

Bradley Wiggins on helmet legislation

I'm sorry to see that Bradley Wiggins, who has always seemed to me a sensible chap, has come out in favour of compulsory helmet legislation. It;s usually people who don;t know much about cycling who take up this position. And in fact Wiggins himself doesn't seem to practise what he preaches. Interviewed by BBC TV news a few days before his recent triumph a the Olympics, while out on a training run, he wasn't wearing a helmet!

For my view of helmets, please see My Position on Helmet Legislation.

Cycle helmets should not be compulsory - Journal of Medical Ethics


Many jurisdictions require cyclists to wear bicycle helmets. The UK is currently not one of these. However, an increasing number of interest groups, including the British Medical Association, want to change the status quo. They argue that mandatory cycle helmet laws will reduce the incidence of head injuries and that this will be both good for cyclists (because they will suffer fewer head injuries) and good for society (because the burden of having to treat cyclists suffering from head injuries will be reduced). In this paper we argue against this position. We suggest that cycle helmets may not be especially effective in reducing head injuries and we suggest that the imposition of such a restrictive law would violate people's freedom and reduce their autonomy. We also argue that those who accept such a restrictive law would be committed to supporting further legislation which would force many other groups – including pedestrians – to take fewer risks

This article is by two authors from St George's Hospital, London. It is to be found at

or at

r J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100085.

Natasha Richardson, head injuries, and helmets

The tragic death of Natasha Richardson has, predictably, given rise to illogical demands for cyclists to wear helmets. On the Today programme this morning we had Peter McCabe, the chief executive of Headway, a charity that supports people with head injury and their carers, arguing in this way. There are several non sequiturs in what he said.

1. We don't know the nature of Natasha Richardson's injury or whether wearing a helmet would have prevented it.

2. The fact that a well-known person has an accident has a disproportionate impact on public opinion.

3. McCabe says that skiiers wear helmets so cyclists should too. But you cannot extrapolate from skiing injuries to cycling injuries. I don't know anything about skiing or what the arguments for head protection in that sport are, but I do know that the case for cyclists is fairly evenly balanced. While I have no wish to dissuade cyclists from using helmets if they want to, I am entirely against legal compulsion to do so.

4. There are plenty of occasions when both pedestrians and motorists suffer head injuries. Why does Mr McCabe not suggest that we should wear helmets for driving and walking as well as cycling?

Wearing a cycle helmet may seriously damage your health

Dr Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist, has conducted research which shows that drivers pass closer to cyclists wearing helmets than to those without. Dr Walker was hit twice during the study, in both cases when wearing a helmet. He thinks that drivers may believe that helmeted cyclists are more experienced and are thereforr more predictable.

On the question of whether you should wear a helmet, Walker says:

"We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so definitely good for children, but whether they offer any real protection to somebody struck by a car is very controversial."

"Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place."

You can read about Dr Walker's research here. And there is also a pdf of his findings here.

Just back from Greece

I've been away for the last week, hence no posts here. I was in Greece, just north of Athens. I managed one cycle ride, up the Parnitha climb, which I hadn't done for the last 5 years. Glad to find that at 73 Ii was still climbing at the same rate as last time I was here, 590 m/hour. The traffic was no worse than last time. More details for anyone interested on my cycling page.

Good letter about cycle helmets

The current issue of the CTC magazine "Cycle" has a good letter about cycle helmets from Peter Clinch, who describes himself as a clinical scientist. He says that he used to regard cyclists who didn't wear helmets as a bit dim. Then he looked into the evidence for the things and realized that he had had the wool pulled over his eyes.
It is no more daft to go without a helmet on a bike in the UK than it is to walk bare-headed along the pavements, yet nobody seems to think it goes against "common sense" to do that."

Clinch points readers to this excellent information site, which should certainly be consulted by all helmet zealots.