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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Tyler Hamilton positive, faces possible life ban.

Cycling News Flash, April 17, 2009

Edited by Laura Weislo

Hamilton tests positive, retires

By Kirsten Robbins with additional reporting by Shane Stokes

Tyler Hamilton has suffered from depression for years.
Photo ©: Emory Ball
(Click for larger image)

Tyler Hamilton's career in cycling has ended following a positive doping control, Cyclingnews learned Friday. He tested positive for the banned steroid Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) after an out-of-competition control in early February. Hamilton admitted to knowingly taking the substance which was an ingredient in a vitamin supplement he took in an attempt to alleviate depression. He has decided to retire.

"I took a banned substance so I need to take whatever penalty they will give me and move forward," Hamilton said. "Today is about my leaving the sport and to talk about my depression, not the past. I don't want to talk about that anymore, it's about moving forward and taking care of myself."

"My future in the sport is yet to be determined. I'll live with that. I have officially retired right now," Hamilton told Cyclingnews. "Michael [Rock Racing owner Michael Ball -ed.] knows, but my teammates don't know yet. It is a very difficult thing."

Hamilton has already served a two-year suspension following a positive test for a homologous blood transfusion in 2004. A second offense could earn him anywhere between eight years to a lifetime ban according to the World Anti-doping Agency's code. For the 38-year-old Hamilton, a comeback from any sanction would be highly unlikely.

"I woke up knowing that I'd be talking to a few people to make it official, and it really hit home and I am really sad. All careers have to come to an end. I didn't want it to end like this, but life throws curve balls and I am trying to see the reason why this is happening. A lot of people have depression and they need to get treated for it."

Rumors of the positive test began surfacing late last month, but the Olympic gold medallist kept the news quiet. He was due to start the Vuelta a Castilla y León last month, but withdrew citing "bronchitis".

"No one officially knew about it," Hamilton told Cyclingnews. "I took a few weeks to figure out my options. I knew it was the calm before the storm. I needed that time to spend with my family, talk to them about what was going to happen and what I am going through."

Supplement taken for depression, not performance enhancement

Hamilton said he purchased Mitamins Advanced Formula for Depression, an over-the-counter homeopathic anti-depressant supplement that contained DHEA. "I'm not naive," said Hamilton, who said he was fully aware that DHEA was an ingredient of the supplement and also one of USADA's banned substances. "I know people will be angry with me and depression is something I need to take care of. I didn't do it at the right time or in the right way, and I'm sorry for the negative spotlight," said Hamilton, who has been a member of USADA's out of competition anti-doping control program since 2000.

"What I did was wrong and yes, I did know it [DHEA] was on the list of banned substances. I also knew that USADA could have shown up any day and at any time to test me. But, I was going through a very rough moment and I was desperate. I heard about it and I thought I would try it out as an act of desperation," said Hamilton, but he denied he took the supplement for performance enhancement. "Did I take it for a banned substance? Absolutely not."

Dr. Charles Welch, at Mass General hospital in Boston diagnosed Hamilton with clinical depression in 2003. He was prescribed Celexa as an anti-depressant for the next six years. According to Hamilton, he took amounts double the prescribed dosage for two weeks in January when his mental health declined further after his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Severe side effects caused him to stop taking the prescribed medication at the end of January. According to Hamilton, his mental health continued to decline without prescription medication during training camp where he purchased Mitamins Advanced Formula for Depression.

Hamilton claims he took the suggested dosage for two days prior to the out-of-competition urine test. USADA's legal limit of DHEA found in the urine is 100ng/mL. Hamilton's urine sample was tested at UCLA where lab technicians found 130 ng/mL of DHEA in his urine sample. Dr. Paul Scott, founder of Scott Analytics, reviewed the testing procedure for the B sample.

According to Scott, the level found in Hamilton's urine was not consistent with him taking large amounts of the drug. However, trying to nail down how much was taken is hard if not impossible. "It could have been a large amount taken several days before the test where only small amounts remained, or it could have been a small amount, the suggested dosage on the bottle, taken the day before the control," Scott told Cyclingnews. "That is a question only Tyler can answer. But, we can't exclude other possibilities to the way it was taken."

DHEA is a natural hormone released by the adrenal glands and the synthetic form is primarily marketed as an anti-aging drug, an anti-depressant and for muscle growth. It is one of the only steroids in the USA not classified as a controlled drug and does not need FDA approval to be sold over the counter. According to Scott, it is banned by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and USADA because it is an andro-related substance. Technically, however, DHEA has very little performance-enhancing effects on the body.

"There is no scientific evidence or basis for this steroid to be a performance enhancer," said Scott. "It is fair to suggest that the probability of DHEA having a performance effect on anyone, at any amount taken is inconceivable. There is no good reason to take DHEA, this is a very foolish drug to take because it is readily detectable, but it has no performance enhancements."

Hamilton's past transgressions

While an athlete with a clean history might escape sanction or get a reduced suspension based on lack of intent to enhance performance, Hamilton's past doping conviction will likely prevent him from earning leniency in this case.

In 2004, Hamilton returned positive A samples in both the Olympic time trial and the subsequent Vuelta a España, although he was allowed to keep that TT gold medal as the B sample had been incorrectly stored and was unable to be analysed.

However his samples from his stage eight time trial win in the Vuelta on September 11th were tested and confirmed the presence of blood cells from an unspecified donor. His Phonak team-mate Santiago Perez also tested positive for a homologous blood transfusion.

The only other cases of homologous blood transfusions in cycling also involved a pair of teammates; Astana's Alexander Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin were suspended in 2007.

Hamilton insisted upon his innocence and fought the suspension, funded partly by donations from fans, He was given a two-year suspension by the United States Anti-Doping Agency on April 18, 2005 . Exactly one month later he appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport but this was dismissed .

That suspension ended in September 2006 and he signed with Tinkoff Credit Systems. He was soon in hot water again when he was linked to the Operación Puerto scandal; on June 26, 2006, the Madrid daily El País alleged that the Spanish civil guard had found evidence that Hamilton had paid over 50,000 USD to Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes for doping products, namely EPO, growth hormones, blood doping and masking agents. Investigators also released details of a fax sent by Fuentes to his wife Haven, using her maiden name Haven Parchinski, listing fees due to the doctor.

Hamilton continued to deny all wrongdoing, but following the release of more information at the end of April 2007 he was suspended soon afterwards by his team. He considered retirement, then eventually returned to competition in 2008 with Rock Racing. Although he and other Operación Puerto-linked riders were blocked from riding the Tour of California in 2008, he won the 2.HC Tour of Qinghai Lake in China last July and then took the US National road race championships in August.

This season, Hamilton has competed in both the Tour of California and the Vuelta Mexico Telmex. He was only 95th overall in California but took second in the mountains classification. He was then 45th in Mexico and fifth on stage seven; Rock Racing won the team classification in the 2.2 race.

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