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Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Cycling News Flash for September 22, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

Hamilton suspended by Phonak

Tyler Hamilton has been suspended by his Phonak team after he twice failed blood tests at the Athens Olympics and the Vuelta a Espaņa. The tests were done on August 19, the day after he won the Olympic time trial, and September 11, the day that he won the eighth stage time trial in the Vuelta. Results of the analyses of his B samples are still awaited.

In a statement issued by the team under the heading "We believe Tyler", Phonak team boss Andy Rihs said that he was shocked by the news as well. "For the moment, we have to concentrate on the facts," said Rihs. "These seem to speak against Tyler. But so long as we're not 100 percent certain that he's guilty of manipulation, we will believe him." However, the team also stated that Hamilton "has been suspended pending further notice. He will remain so until the proceedings are completed. If Hamilton is not able to prove his innocence, then the contract will be cancelled effective immediately."

Hamilton has strongly denied that he has used any illegal performance enhancing methods, telling a press conference yesterday that, "I am 100 percent innocent. The results were like a bolt of lightning out of the blue for me. I have no idea what has happened. It must be some kind of manipulation." If found guilty, the consequences could be severe for the 33 year old American. In addition to losing his contract and personal sponsorships, he would also be stripped of his Olympic gold medal and Vuelta stage win, face a possible career-ending two year suspension for doping, as well as a considerable loss of credibility.

Hamilton is accused of receiving a homologous blood transfusion (involving blood from a compatible donor) after both the IOC and the UCI noticed irregularities in his blood profiles. Boosting oxygen carrying capacity and thus performance via blood transfusion is a fairly old method of doping that has come back into favour among endurance athletes because of the relative ease of detecting EPO. Homologous transfusions are detectable by the new blood test that has been researched for more than five years and was put into place at the Tour de France. As yet, autologous transfusions (using a person's own blood) cannot be detected. Apart from detection, homologous transfusions carry risks such as the contraction of AIDS or other blood borne diseases. However, they have the advantage of not having side-effects for 4-6 weeks when blood is drawn.

At the moment, neither Hamilton nor his team have been able to explain the test results. Andy Rihs was quoted yesterday as saying that he doubted the validity of the test as well as the inordinately long period (nearly a month) between the Olympic test and Hamilton being informed of the result. However, the head of the IOC's medical commission, Arne Ljungqvist was quoted by Reuters as saying that Hamilton's test results were tagged "suspicious" when they came back from the IOC-accredited laboratory, so they were submitted for a review by a panel of experts. After the review "it was ruled as not just suspicious but positive indeed", Ljungqvist said.

As for the delay in reporting the results, Ljungqvist said that, "It's a regular feature of exercising the proper care before reporting a case."

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