With the season's main races now done and dusted, your faithful cycling blogger has finally found the time to sit down and read Tyler Hamilton's explosive warts-and-all tome on the "hidden world of the Tour de France: doping, cover-ups and winning at all costs".
'The Secret Race' is a read and a half; there are enough twists and turns to keep all fans of the espionage crime thriller genre interested — and without wanting to give too much away: the Texan did it (although so did pretty much everyone else).
You see, riding in the peloton from the 90s onwards without EPO was like being in Manchester's Hacienda nightclub in the same era without any Ullrich disco biscuits.
If you're squeamish about blood and gore, this is not the book for you: there are more transfusions than an entire series of ER and more needles than the combined total of the world's haystacks.
Hamilton's lurid recollection of blood bag (BB) manipulation made Saddles feel nauseous on numerous occasions — particularly one episode where our 'hero' leaves Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes's office in a hurry to catch a plane when he notices, on a Madrid street corner, that his "hand was dripping with blood. My sleeve was soaked. I looked like I'd just murdered someone".
It gets worse than having to clean up and throw away his shirt in an airport bathroom: during the 2004 Tour, Hamilton unwittingly transfuses a bag full of dead blood cells after a botched attempt at freezing his blood in a cellar dubbed 'Siberia'. In perhaps the bleakest episode of the entire book, Hamilton spends the night pissing blood and shivering with fever alongside his dying dog Tugboat.
Enough of this grimness. Now it's time to take a sideways glance at the book that has sent shivers through the spine of cycling — as Saddles asks the lingering questions that really matter...
* Has Hamilton ever read anything by Emile Zola? Or was the epigraph — taken from the French author's biography of Alfred Dreyfus — inspired by co-writer Daniel Coyle? Either way, it's a funny choice for an opening quote, seeing that the Dreyfus affair was all about one man being falsely accused for a crime he did not commit...
Perhaps a better quotation would have been from a letter once written by Edgar Allan Poe which sums up the way Lance Armstrong closed the door on so many of his previous team-mates and close associates: "Years of love have been forgot / In the hatred of a minute" (or, to be precise, in the hatred of 60 Minutes).
* What would constitute a "not normal" performance in the Hamilton family's annual Mountain Goat Invitational Crazy Croquet Tournament?
* Does Hamilton's vocabulary really include the words brainiac, fervently, dapper and crackerjack? In short, how much of the book are we reading as Coyle's version of events?
* Coyle writes in the introduction that "all facts would have to be independently confirmed whenever possible". Did he check with Moreno Argentin that Armstrong called him Chiappucci? Did he check with Armstrong that he really was a big fan of MacGyver?
* Hamilton described US Postal doping doctor Pedro Celaya as "like your favourite uncle". Did Celaya also ruffle his hair and slip him dollar bills and candy bars when they said goodbye?
* Do Heiny's 'hematocrit holidays' count as annual paid leave?
* Did the term 'paniagua' take on the same connotations as the word 'gay' — ie. "Tyler, quit complaining already, you're being so paniagua today"?
* When Hamilton was first given a red egg by Celaya, was he also given the option of taking a blue one as well — seeing that he was at that point, ahem, a Neo-pro?
* Regarding Floyd Landis's cappuccino challenge — did he ever do the same with the red eggs, replacing his injection of caffeine with a trigger of testosterone?
* George Hincapie was called Pizza Margherita because of his love of pizzas. Did Motoman ever double up as a DominoEPO Pizza delivery man?
* Does a 38-year-old finishing on the podium of the Tour after four years in retirement count as 'normal' or 'not normal'?
* What happened when the Postal guys went out for breakfast in Girona and genuinely wanted to order some orange juice?
* What if Jonathan Vaughters, a notorious book worm, actually wanted to read The Fall of the House of Usher?
* Who's better: Iban Mayo at driving trucks or Alex Zuelle at painting?
* Were the 'Amigos del Edgar' allowed to s*** in the US Postal campervan during the 1999 Tour?
* If Lance was the "extraterrestrial", did L'Equipe ever run the headline, 'ET: Go home'?
* Was/is Motoman actually any good at gardening? Or was Dr. Fuentes, who started out as a gynaecologist, better at trimming bushes?
* Does Lance still believe that President Clinton, his good friend, "did not have sexual relations with that woman"?
* If one were to bug Lance's bedroom and he was there, pre-Glowtime, with, say, Sheryl Crow or one of the Olsen twins, would we hear something along the lines of: "How's that feel?" I'm still here, Lance. "This?" Just a little bit higher. "Okay, this?" Still here, dude.
* Did Tyler and his buddies ever make a salad dressing out of Andriol-laced olive oil?
* What did Lance do with those Nike trainers that Christian Vande Velde ridiculed one morning over breakfast? Were they really that bad?
* If Vaughters was the "king choad" what did that make David Millar?
* Was Johan Bruyneel really such a douche that he didn't know that his own rider, Hamilton, had won on Mont Ventoux during the 2000 Dauphine Libere because he was too preoccupied with Armstrong's faltering performance?
* What was in one of Pepe Marti's famous bocadillos? Could someone with such a voracious appetite as Jan Ullrich ever get on top of micro-dosing?
* When Hamilton spotted Alexander Vinokourov at a cafe outside Dr. Fuentes's Madrid pad, was the Kazakh having a zumo di naranja or a can of Coke?
* If Ullrich is now promoting a hair-replacement product with the tagline "Doping for hair" then surely Roberto Heras could do a similarly tongue-in-cheek advert selling packets of sugar?
* Did Bjarne "Mr 60%" Riis read the anecdote of Hamilton's "Mister Forty-F***ing-Nine-Point-Seven" ascent of the Monzuno and find it hard to suppress a laugh?
* In Coyle's introduction to the book, Hamilton is portrayed as chewing tobacco: "a filthy habit" he's "trying to quit". Later, Hamilton introduces us to Dr. Fuentes, described as being "from a wealthy family of tobacco farmers". Is there any link? Does Ufe's nefarious influence on Hamilton still linger all these years on?
* Talking of Fuentes, how does one make the step up from gynaecology to blood doping?
* How does Jeff Buell, Hamilton's best friend from Marblehead, feel about the last four digits of his telephone number being the rider's codename for Fuentes? How did Tugboat feel about the flagrant snub?
* Tugboat. Tanker. Is the next Hamilton golden retriever going to be called Aircraft Carrier?
* What would have happened had Fuentes genuinely wanted to have dinner and coffee with Hamilton to give him a present on his birthday — and communicated that via text?
* Isn't it about time that a band was formed called "BBs and the Echo Positives"?
* Does Michael Sandstod own a salt shaker?
* Is there even a restaurant on 167 Rue des Champs Elysees?
* If, as Hamilton states, the peloton is "Facebook on wheels", then who does the most poking and infuriatingly inane status updating?
* Who was the low-level Spanish rider who was unable to afford transfusions so used a dog's blood instead? What kind of dog did he use — a high-altitude Peruvian whippet or a Siberian husky? Perhaps Fuentes kept things simple and just gave him some of Piti or Borillo's blood?
* Are Mark Wahlberg or Jake Gyllenhaal the right choices for playing Lance in a film? Given his love of the expletive, would someone like Christian Bale not be better?
* When Fuentes's Madrid office was busted in 2006, they found 220 blood bags — that's more than one per rider in the peloton. How many were named after dogs? How many contained traces of currywurst and were therefore traceable to Jan Ullrich? How many belonged to Ivan Basso — just in case he decided that one day he did want to dope? Did any have traces of Clenbuterol?
* What was the plat du jour at Aspen restaurant Cache Cache on the now notorious night when Hamilton ran into Armstrong? Perhaps it was Braised Texan Beef. Or Slow-Cooked Belgian Hog.
* Is US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr, by chance, the proud owner of a new blood testing machine valued at around $100,000?
* And finally, has that little boy called Lance that we meet in the closing chapter since changed his name to Cadel or Bradley?