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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
Interview with Tyler Hamilton
By no means a Dr Evil, but a threat to Austin Powers
By Anthony Tan
After a stellar performance at the Giro d'Italia where Hamilton placed second overall and endured the remaining two weeks with broken bones, the humble man from Marblehead is looking good for a high placing in cycling's main event.
Tyler is one of three designated leaders at CSC-Tiscali, along with Laurent Jalabert and Carlos Sastre; however should one of the latter two falter, Tyler will comfortably assume the mantle of being CSC's main man. After all, he's had no problems doing so in his first year out of the confines of the Postal squad; and if it wasn't for his rear wheel collapsing during a crucial mountain stage of the Giro, Hamilton may well have been sitting pretty in pink upon arrival in Milano this year.
Back to Le Tour. An encouraging prologue, placing 16th (Tyler points out he rode cautiously - to the extent that DSs Bjarne Riis and Johnny Weltz gave him "a ribbing!"), backed up by smart riding yesterday on a crash-infested stage, means that Hamilton is only 16 seconds down on Armstrong. It appears we've got a dark horse on our hands.
Great friends off the bike they may be, but when they're on their two-wheeled carbon-fibre machines, it's not just going to be Lance versus France - Tyler Hamilton will be giving all he's got to put Austin Powers in a spot of difficulty come the high mountains.
Cyclingnews: In your first year at CSC-Tiscali as a GC rider, you've had a great season with your incredible ride at the Giro d'Italia. Have you managed to maintain your form over the last couple of weeks, or has it been more a case of some serious R&R after your crashes sustained during the earlier stages of the Giro; and have you fully recuperated from these injuries?
Tyler Hamilton: For the first week after the Giro, I rested quite a bit under doctor's orders. Since I hadn't allowed my shoulder any time to recover during the last two weeks of the race, it was important to take it easy for a few days and keep my arm in a sling to let things recuperate. In that time I probably lost a little of my fitness. But in the following weeks I was training at altitude in Colorado. By the time I came back to Europe I was feeling stronger every day. The shoulder has not healed 100 percent, but I do feel a lot better than I did during the Giro. Since I missed out on doing any races prior to the start of the Tour de France, I may have to find my form in the opening week of the Tour, but I'm confident I can get stronger as the race continues toward Paris.
CN: What sort of preparation have you and the CSC boys been doing over the last month or so - have you guys managed to reconnoitre the mountain passes in the Alps or Pyrenees or check out any of the TT stages?
TH: Some of my team-mates have been able to view the stages of the Tour but I travelled home to have my shoulder injury evaluated in the States, and wound up staying there for most of the month of June. Because of this, I missed out on making any TdF preview trips. But even though I missed out on seeing some of this year's stages over the past month, I have ridden many of the mountain passes and portions of the other stages in previous TdFs and other races; so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what's ahead.
CN: For both the organisers and the fans, it must have been quite a shock not to have Jan Ullrich riding the Tour at such late notice. What do you think this means for the Tour de France in general? Do you think we'll still see a great battle for the GC, or is Lance just too good this year?
TH: I don't think Lance will disappoint his fans this year. He is riding as strong, if not stronger than I have ever seen him this season. His results at Midi Libre and the Dauphiné Libéré prove he is on target for win number four. He's already proven he's racing on a different level than everyone else this year. But that said, this is a three week long bike race and anything can happen - the top ten could hold a few surprises.
CN: With Ullrich's departure, Laurent Jalabert, Carlos Sastre and yourself are possible contenders for the podium - what stages do will think will be crucial in order to place high on GC, and are there any particular stages that you think you could excel in?
TH: I don't like to make any predictions about grand tours - unless of course I'm talking about Lance! The Tour de France is stacked in the same sort of way the Giro was, with the most difficult stages toward the end. But like every year, the speeds will be crazy throughout the first week. Our team will hope for a possible stage win from Jalabert and will also protect Carlos and I. So we're going to have a very different strategy from the Giro. There's no telling how our overall strategy will unfold at this point; like I said, it's difficult to predict how a three week race will play out.
CN: What are your thoughts on having more than one 'protected' rider on our team? For example, Postal has only one (Armstrong), whereas your team has three - or does this give your team more options in a race as big as the Tour de France?
TH: I am eager to see how things go. Riding for a team with more than one protected rider will be a whole new experience for me personally. As I've said before, I'm pretty green at the leadership role. I imagine we will learn a lot from our strategy during this Tour de France - I think we're lucky to have so many talented riders within one squad.
CN: How have you adapted to the change of climate so to speak at CSC-Tiscali? How does it compare with the atmosphere and the way the team operates as opposed to your previous environment at US Postal?
TH: Because Bjarne Riis is very easy going, the atmosphere on the CSC-Tiscali team is very calm and relaxed. I think everyone follows his example really well, as he is the undisputed boss. His energy and way of handling various situations sets the tone for how everything else goes. I can't really compare my experience on US Postal to my current one because my role as a rider has changed so much - it would be like comparing apples and oranges. But I do believe that all I learned on US Postal has helped me adapt to my current position.
CN: Do you follow a strict dietary regime during the races like the Giro and TDF - and does it become less strict as the Tour goes on? What does your typical daily food intake consist of, and is it true that you just can't eat enough?
TH: The strict dietary regime comes prior to a grand tour. It's important to be as lean and powerful as possible if you want to be a contender or a serious contributor. Finding that exact balance is a little tricky at times. But once you are at the race things change a bit; I've actually seen guys gain weight during the Tour de France! The problem is that you finish a stage completely wasted and then have to wait a couple of hours before dinner. It's easy to get into the habit of visiting the soigneur's room for cookies to tide you over - which always leads to trouble because one handful always leads to a second...
CN: Will you guys be testing any new equipment during the Tour - frames, wheels, any super light bits and pieces? How do you find the Look carbon bikes compared to your previous years spent on a Trek OCLV? Is a bike just a bike for you, or are you very particular about your setup and choice of equipment, like your wheels?
TH: The Look bikes are great. This is the first year I've had a custom built frame for racing - they have also designed special climbing bikes for the team as well. In general, the frames are really stiff and light, which is great, because I was used to a lot of stiffness from the Trek OCLVs. Each company makes super equipment - I've been fortunate to ride both during my pro career.
CN: Finally, what do you think about the decision to make the three grand tours shorter to allow riders to focus on more than one major event? You're riding your second GT in the space of three months, but do you believe in today's climate that it's possible to ride for the overall classification in more than one major tour, or do one's objectives have to change?
TH: I'll have to answer this question in August! I haven't actually ever completed two grand tours in the space of one season before. But plenty of riders have, so I think it's safe to say it can be done. With the range of disciplines needed to endure a grand tour, everyone has their shot to prove something at one point or another. That said, it's not imperative for a rider to be 110% on form for an entire race. If a team and its leader are strategic enough about the way they train and compete, I think a single rider can be dominant in more than one grand tour - just look at the history books.
Thank Ty, and on that note, off went the machine from Mass for his massage, and off I went to catch up on some history lessons.