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An interview with Tyler Hamilton, November 31, 2006

Back to racing: Tyler Hamilton

Tyler Hamilton recently confirmed his comeback to the sport of professional cycling by signing with emerging Italian team, Tinkoff Credit Systems. The American, controversial holder of the 2004 Olympic time trial gold medal, will surely help the Russian-backed team enter big races like the Giro d'Italia. Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews interviewed Hamilton one day after the team announced his signing.

Hamilton in the red colours of Team CSC
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"I will meet with the Tinkoff Credit Systems team management in the next couple of weeks and we will discuss our schedule for the upcoming season. At the moment it is too early to say what my first race back will be," noted Hamilton, happy to be returning the professional level.

Now 35 years-old, Hamilton was handed a two-year ban from his profession in the fall of 2004 due to testing positive for blood transfusion in the Vuelta a España. Since that day he has steadfastly refused any type of wrongdoing, even recently when documents were allegedly found with his name in connection to Operación Puerto.

"I'm not interested in lamenting about the past ... I'm only thinking about the future."

- Hamilton on missing two years of racing.

Controversy behind him, Hamilton has accepted a one-year contract with the team backed by Russian millionaire, Oleg Tinkov. Tinkov's aim is to have the team enter the Giro d'Italia, something which should be feasible; race organizers will remember that it was Hamilton who narrowly missed out on victory in the 2002 edition, bravely coming second to Paolo Savoldelli.

"I hope the team will be part of the Giro d'Italia. It has always been one of my favourite races and I've always wanted to ride the Giro," Hamilton responded in regards to his 2007 goals. He is the only American to ever win one of cycling's five monuments, the 2003 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. "Certainly, Liège is also a very special race for me. I would love to try to win this race again. In my opinion, it's the hardest one day race of the year."

Hamilton in Paris
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Tinkoff only announced its signing of Hamilton after having signed the entire 2007 roster. The list of riders* may not be the men that you would take to win Liège or the Giro, but the team has potential with riders like the experienced Salvatore Commesso and emerging Russian Mikhail Ignatyev.

"I will be able to tell you more about the team after our first meeting in early December. I'm looking forward to getting to know the riders on a personal level. There are a lot of young very talented guys with bright futures on the roster and I hope I can help them with my 10 years of experience in the pro peloton.

"I have not made any plans to date to live in Italy next year," continued Hamilton when Cyclingnews mentioned that the General Manager, Stefano Feltrin, suggested he could be relocating near Piacenza, next the team's headquarters. "I have visited Girona [Spain] a number of times in the last two years. We have a lot of friends and an apartment there. I was just there in September and it always feels like home when I visit. It would be easy to return to Spain next season, because I've been living there on and off since 1997. However, it could be nice to try someplace new."

All the excitement of the new season does not disassociate the likable American from cycling's doping problems. Those alleged links to Operación Puerto are being investigated by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), who received related documents in October. Hamilton replied with a short "No" when asked whether a decision by the USADA could stop him from racing. And, regarding any disciplinary hearings, he responded, "I have not been contacted by USADA to date."

Tyler Hamilton at the 2004 Phonak presentation
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As a rider who has weathered the legal storm of doping allegations, Hamilton has a valid opinion on the current situation with Floyd Landis. The American winner of the Tour de France is in a legal limbo that could likely result in his three-week title being stripped.

"I support Floyd 100%," confessed Hamilton. "And I am happy to see him making his case so public. Staying quiet was the biggest mistake I made in my case. So much evidence and argument gets misinterpreted by the media and people are left with misinformation and the wrong impression.

"As an example - my defence was never that I was 'chimeric' or had a 'vanishing twin,' yet according to everything published it was. If we had released our evidence and expert testimony as it was presented like Floyd is doing, we probably could have avoided a lot of confusion about my case. I support anyone who wants to have a public hearing. I think it's a great idea. I'm glad Floyd is pushing for that."

Hamilton's and Landis' cases give concern that cycling is becoming overrun with doping investigations and questionable race results. Prior to the Landis affair, the Tour was already whipped into a tailspin when the Operación Puerto investigation resulted some major contenders being sidelined. Hamilton discussed what needs to happen in cycling for these problems to be eliminated.

"In my opinion there needs to be more collaboration between the riders and the sport officials. The guilty until proven innocent mantra needs to stop. There are clear problems with the anti-doping system when you have results being leaked, computer systems allegedly being hacked into and athletes being prosecuted on the basis of conflicting or unsubstantiated data.

Oleg Tinkov, the Russian who is sponsoring Tinkoff
Photo ©: Sergey Kurdyukov
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"I like the idea of bringing good, solid, well-researched science to the anti-doping movement. When this is the standard, there will be less conflict and less potential for athletes to take risks. This is the direction we all need to demand and support to put all conflict to rest.

The rider from Marblehead, Massachusetts, must be hoping for smooth sailing for 2006; allowing him to focus on the business of racing, instead of politics. Having a two-year "rest" will give him the needed boost to compete in his late-thirties, and perhaps fans will see him battling with best of cycling the over Liège's côtes and the Giro's passes.

Tyler Hamilton riding in the Tour
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"I was pretty tired by 2004 and if you asked me then how much longer I would have seen myself competing, I might have said only a year or two," he continued. "I was pretty depleted and unhealthy from racing so much. But one of the bright sides of the last two years has been my ability to rest and recover. I think I added years to my career and I can see myself riding for a few more years for sure. I never took my racing career for granted, but being away from the sport for so long has made me realize how much I really love racing and the sport of cycling. ... Riding has definitely gotten me through the last two years.

"... I'm not interested in lamenting about the past at this point. I'm only thinking about the future."

*2007 team: Tyler Hamilton (USA), Elia Aggiano (Ita), Pavel Brutt (Rus), Ilya Chernetsky (Rus), Salvatore Commesso (Ita), Daniele Contrini (Ita), Danilo Hondo (Ger), Sergey Klimov (Rus), Mikhail Ignatyev (Rus), Ruggero Marzoli (Ita), Anton Mindlin (Rus), Evgeni Petrov (Rus), Ivan Rovny (Rus), Alexander Serov (Rus), Ricardo Serrano (Esp), Nikolay Trusov (Rus) and Steffen Weigold (Ger).

Cyclingnews' April 2005 interview with Tyler Hamilton.

Cyclingnews coverage of Tyler Hamilton's blood doping case

November 26, 2006 - Confusion over Hamilton 'admission'
November 24, 2006 - Hamilton confirmes 2007 contract with Tinkoff
November 14, 2006 - Hamilton signed with Tinkoff?
November 13, 2006 - Hamilton has signed
October 31, 2006 - USA Cycling CEO on Puerto developments
October 21, 2006 - UCI questions value of teams hiring riders under suspension cloud
September 15, 2006 - USA Cycling informed about Hamilton
September 2, 2006 - Hamilton's World's aspirations dashed
August 29, 2006 - McQuaid on Pevenage, Hamilton, testing
August 26, 2006 - Hamilton file to be studied soon
August 22, 2006 - Extensive doping alleged for Hamilton
August 21, 2006 - Hamilton's "doping diary" from 2003 published
July 3, 2006 - Ullrich, Basso risk four years - life-long ban for Hamilton?
June 28, 2006 - Hamilton to keep Olympic time-trial gold medal
June 26, 2006 - Hamilton and Ullrich linked to Operación Puerto

Complete coverage of Tyler Hamilton's blood doping case

Other Talking Cycling Interviews