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Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 1
 
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 2/27/2006
Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 1
 

Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 1
On April 18th Tyler Hamilton said in a statement after receiving a 2 year ban  earlier the same day, "My case is a very complicated one. I could write on and on about the issues we raised, the personal toll all this has had on me, my family and my sponsors and why I think the anti-doping process could be improved. In the days ahead I'll share more." 

It's true the case was and is a complicated one; following the reports and information and listening to the debate on both sides some things did not always make sense. Hamilton is not your run of the mill competitor. In the following paragraph from a team preview for the 2004 Tour de France Jaime Nichols wrote:

"Without a doubt, Hamilton was the real hero of the 2003 Tour de France, and holy hell, did he ever earn the distinction. After catapulting himself into a broken collarbone at the finish of stage 1, it looked as if little Tyler's jig was up, but the fat lady wasn't singing, and the next morning, he was there at the start and all kitted up to ride!

Wincing in agony atop slightly de-pressurized tires and double wrapped handlebars in an attempt to cushion the blow of every little imperfection of the road's surface, he vowed to carry on to aid his teammates in the Team Time Trial on stage 4 and then? "we'll see," he said. His bags were packed in the feed zone that day, but he didn't quit.


Phonak TTT Tour de France 2003 photo c. Dave O'Nyons

By stage 8, he was attacking the heads of state on the Alpe D'Huez while we all gasped in amazement. Eight days later, he won stage 16 after a Herculean 100 km breakaway, the pain writ large all over his New England face, and this reporter cried real tears. By stage 19, he had clawed himself into 4th place in the G.C. by taking second in the final time trial, only 9 seconds off David Millar's winning time. Like I said: Holy Hell. That was a ride.

In 2004, Tyler led out with strong performances all season, including a solid second consecutive victory in the Tour of Romandie - which he targeted, said he hoped to win and did win; always the mark of someone to look out for, and a second behind Mayo in the Dauphine, riding, he says, below his best form."

Tyler that year was nicknamed "Nails" by our staff for his "tough as nails" approach to conquering adversity and winning. The last seventeen months Tyler has demonstrated that his determination and courage to endure the challenges of life are not something he left on the roads of Europe, but a much a part of his character as his love of riding and racing.

 Recently on February 11th CAS made a finding on the appeal that Tyler had made. During the last two years as the appeal process went forward Tyler has maintained his innocence and kept a low profile. Now that the this strange, unexpected, and prolonged CAS appeal is over it's time to speak to the man himself and get his take on the last 17 months... it was time to talk to "Nails" Hamilton...

Vaughn Trevi: Tyler I just finished reading the press release for your statement for the second time. This cycle with the suspension and appeal took a long time. It seems to me that 17 months is more time than it should have taken. At this point is there some sense of release that it’s finally over, and you and Haven can move on?

Tyler: I’ve said a number of times that I did not expect the process to take as long as it did.  Initially, we were so naïve, we thought this issue would have been resolved during the off season in 2004.  Had I known it was going to take as long as it did to present my case, I would have been really devastated at the onset.  One of the most difficult parts of this entire process was all of the waiting, and not knowing.  I never even had dates for each of the verdicts after my hearings.  For a year and a half my life was in limbo and at the mercy of this system.  Not knowing when I was going to regain control of my life was difficult to cope with at times because it kept Haven and I from making any kind of plans for the future.  Even though we are not happy with the outcome of the case, at least we have an end date for this nightmare, and know that once September arrives, we can begin to rebuild my career and our lives.

VT: During the last 17 months what has kept your spirits up? What has your personal journey been like during this time?
Tyler: My wife Haven has been a constant source of strength and support for me throughout this.  I can’t imagine having to endure a situation like this by myself.  I am also really lucky to have a very close family and an incredible group of friends who have all rallied for me.  In a situation like this you never really know what people on the outside are thinking.  Especially in light of the way the media has covered my case. But, the people closest to me made a point to check in and voice their support on a regular basis and that helped a lot. 

In addition, I never stopped training.  Riding is my passion and for the last ten years I’ve been fortunate that it’s also been my livelihood. What I realized in the last year is that cycling is my coping mechanism too.  Being outside, on the bike, is very therapeutic.  Thankfully, we moved back to Colorado right before all this happened, and I’ve been able to ride with a great group of cyclists on some of the best roads in the US.  Out on the road I can think things through and hammer out my anger and frustration.  I guess you could call cycling my constructive vice as well.

VT: I am sure you were advised not to do interviews by your attorneys. Would you have preferred not to take this action? Did you feel that the media fairly reported on the scene or did you feel that the media and for that matter cycling forums around the world make you feel like you were being tried in “the court of public opinion”? Did you come out with a different view of who your friends were or the fickleness of the fans?

Tyler: Throughout the entire process I was asked to keep a low profile and be respectful of the agencies in charge of hearing my case.  I have never been one to sling mud through the media or throw a tantrum when things didn’t go my way.  Taking the high road was the right thing to do for me personally.  However, I was disappointed to see high ranking officials from the anti doping agencies slandering my character through the media even before my B testing was finished.  I realized quickly that I was going to be made an example of, regardless of the fact that I didn’t transfuse. 

I thought the general public, and especially cycling fans who had come to know me over the years would see what I saw – officials jumping to condemn me before the facts were in.  They went on the offensive right out of the box.  If they were confident in this new test, then logic says they shouldn’t have needed malign me so quickly or so fiercely. 

            Unfortunately a large amount of misinformation was reported during that period that got picked up over and over throughout my case.  I did speak to a number of journalists and explained the errors being disseminated.  In addition, I would share critical facts about my case but they never seemed to make it into the reporting.  I’d pick up the articles and see the same misinformation repeated again and again, like we never spoke at all.  It was frustrating to say the least, so I stopped trusting the media completely.  I assumed that when I was vindicated they would finally see the truth.  So we sat tight waiting to tell the whole story.

VT: I can understand that Tyler; when younger I was interviewed by a local newspaper. The reporter asked if I played football, I replied yes and hoped to in High School. When the newspaper article came out he had changed my simple reply to boasting statements of my abilities which I never made. I was embarrassed and learned then that some journalists aren’t interested in reporting the truth. I also learned what I had to do to correct the record.
Of course I wasn’t famous pro athlete or a Tour de France contender, so the repercussions were nothing compared to what you described.
Are there other times you or riders you know have been misquoted and you or they had to live down or continuously try to set the record straight? What personal problems has this caused to you and other riders?

Tyler: Not until my case.  Most of the cycling press is pretty straightforward.  But after my case erupted I was surprised to see so many people I had spent time speaking with over the years and getting to know, did not want to dig deeper into my case.  I was shocked that the AP summaries would be the large extent of their stories.  I wondered if they saw the disconnect between the person they had spent so much time with and the scandal.  Some told me they did, but it seemed that no one wanted to write about that.  I was really disappointed by that.

 


Tyler at the Launch of the Tyler Hamilton Foundation in 2003
Photo c. Craig Hermle

VT: Coming out of this whole scenario do you personally have more or less faith in WADA and USADA to work toward better validation of tests with independent studies by other labs and fairer treatment of athletes in adjudicating positive tests in the future? Can we expect that the UCI will press for reforms that would demand a higher standard of tests and justice procedures?

Tyler: One of the most startling aspects of what I experienced was to learn that labs don’t need accreditation from an independent party to move forward with a new test.  All a WADA accredited lab has to do is tell WADA they have a new test and they feel comfortable rolling it out.  This is amazing to me.  And personally, I think it’s what leads to the current culture where tests that are not ready for use get fine-tuned while they are being used against athletes.  History tells the unsettling story on this front – the testosterone, nandrolone and EPO tests have all been adjusted over time while in use because incomplete validation did not bear out the shortcomings of each test.  I will always contend the same is true about the homologous blood transfusion test.  Our experts contended at best, the current HBT method has potential to be a good screening test but much more work has to be done to accurately prove if a transfusion really took place. 

I think athletes who dedicate their whole lives to their careers deserve better.  The current policy for rolling out a new test would never fly in the greater community of science.  WADA will argue that principles of each new method they consider need to be peer reviewed and published in a medical journal before they accept it.  This criteria however, is not validation of the principle.  In the case of the homologous blood transfusion test, the published method was peer reviewed by someone at Harvard Medical School.  This review allowed the test to move forward however it was also critical of the method and offered suggestions for improvement.  Those suggestions were ultimately ignored.  So on the one hand the peer review green lighted the method, but on the other, its content and meaning are disregarded.  Again, I would argue that the larger scientific community would require better.

VT: The Facts list presented on you site (available here and Tyler’s site;  I suggest all fans and riders read), presents us with a multiple of problems with, not only the validation of the test but also with the individual companies involved developing and evaluating the test, who have a vested economic and reputation interest in the tests.
What do you see as the most egregious item in the list? (note: Labs patent test procedures and kits stand to benefit financially.)

Tyler: The current anti doping system lacks objectivity and proper independent input.  Take a look for example, at how the test used in my case rolled out:

  1. USADA provides a funding grant to SIAB in Australia to develop the HBTT
  2. SIAB subcontracts lab technicians from Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney to write a paper on the potential method
  3. The method is published in a small Australian medical journal and peer reviewed by 1 expert
  4. WADA acknowledges the peer reviewed publication of the method and authorizes two labs to collaborate on the validation
  5. Validation of the test is overseen by the authors of the test method (SAIB, PAH)
  6. Vague positivity criteria for the HBTT is dictated by USADA to limit potential challenges from athletes
  7. The labs decide the test is validated and inform WADA they are ready to proceed
  8. One lab is allowed to roll out the test under “flexible accreditation” although that accreditation is later dropped by the lab director and the test is performed as a pilot project, meaning it is no longer officially an anti doping test at that lab
  9. Two weeks later the test rolls out in the WADA lab and is used on athlete samples
  10. The WADA lab declares a positive
  11. The international federation (UCI) accepts the positive and does not question the validation even though the test is new
  12. The athlete is charged
  13. USADA is assigned as the prosecutor in this case on behalf of USA Cycling.  This role also puts them in the position of defending the test they funded and wrote the positivity criteria for.

My point-of-view is that USADA should not be involved in funding the tests used against the athletes they face during the judicial phase. This is an obvious conflict of interest. They should be in one camp or the other but not both. 
There should also be more independent evaluation of new test methods.  There are thousands of medical journals in the world and it’s fairly easy to find one to publish a paper.  More review would require more thought being given to the potential methods. 

Also, the labs that stand to make money by some day running the new tests should not be in charge of validating them.  Independent sources should be tapped without vested interests in determining if a test works.  And finally, it shouldn’t be left up to the labs to decide for themselves it the test works.  An independent party should oversee that phase of the process.  It’s worth noting that if a WADA lab that volunteers to do validation work doesn’t roll out the test, they are not refunded for the time and materials they invested up front.  This economic threat could be an impetus for rushing a test into use before it’s ready, and should not be the standard of operation.

All of these practices fly in the face of what is acceptable within the scientific community.

VT: There are a number of conflicts noted in the facts under “Test Data”: Your blood was typed wrong in the initial test, similar odd results on other Olympic athletes at the time, inconsistent results of tests done 4 weeks later in September 2004, all of which point up problems with the HBTT test early on. At that point were you beginning to wonder what was going on and what this might lead to in the future?

Tyler: I knew right away there was a problem with the test because I knew I hadn’t transfused someone else’s blood.  That’s why, the day they told me I had tested positive, I threw forward my arm, told them to take another sample and run the test again.  Clearly I thought there was a mistake.  At that point, I didn’t know enough not to trust the procedure.  I asked the UCI to take additional samples on a number of occasions but was refused. I could never understand why they didn’t want to do this, especially considering we were talking about a new test.

Gaining access to my test data was like pulling teeth in the early going.  Normally, an athlete would have access to at least some of the test results before the B samples are analyzed.  After repeated requests we were finally provided my Athens data in October but my Vuelta data didn’t follow until December.  Researchers from MIT had already contacted us about the published method citing flaws and wanted to help us determine what went wrong in my case.  But without access to the test results or the standard operating procedure for the method this was very difficult to do. 

Ideally, we wanted to retest a sample of my blood from close in time to the allegation.  But lack of access to the procedure and my test data prohibited us from being able to do so until late December and January of 2005.  By the time we had enough information to try and do this, a sample I had stored in September was too old to produce reliable results. 

There was a clear lack of transparency in the early going with my case that left us all wondering what was going on.  When we finally had the data from Athens and the Vuelta, it was apparent there were problems.  For starters, the data didn’t match and secondly, our experts could identify significant errors that illustrated that the test wasn’t working properly.

 

VT: At the point that all of this was going on, I would have thought that there was something odd going on; like I was in the position of being prosecuted to be used as an “example.” Was there some point you began to wonder that the intention of WADA or the officials involved was more than an objective search for the truth?

Tyler: When world-respected researchers looked at the test data and called it “junk” and read up on the published methodology and commented that if one of their students turned in those papers they’d get and “F”, I thought to myself – okay, we’re going to get this straightened out. 

With everything we learned every little step of the way I would ask myself, how did this get this far?  But I always had faith the truth about the method and my test results would clear things up.  I figured – they had their day accusing me back in September but they won’t let this get so out of hand that they’ll actually let these charges stick.  Even Dick Pound chose his words carefully in the beginning making comments like “The test properly implemented is entirely reliable… but how the test was applied and what was analyzed and all that sort of stuff I don’t know (9/23/04 AP).”  When I read things like that I thought – they know something went wrong here. 

VT: Ok, It is often my contention to other fans and cyclists that the depth of how endemic, or how common using PED's is in the pro Peloton. I point out that there are no studies or tests of every rider in a race day to present it as a fact. Unfortunately, rumor and speculation rule the day in the media. If one were to use the actual doping bans as an indicator; the percentage is so low that some believe that many riders escape detection. I’ve been told by a few pro riders that it is common knowledge in the Peloton regarding who is cheating with dope and who is clean…I have doubts that this is the case.
I’m not asking for names or dates, but in your own estimation how big a problem is it?

Tyler: I am always amazed at the rap cycling gets for doping.  I don’t know for sure if cyclists are tested more than any other athletes out there, but they have to be at the top of the list.  Take the HBT test for instance.  The UCI accepted it straight away and even offered up the B samples of health tests of cyclists to be used during the validation of the test.  In addition, they never questioned whether the test worked properly; they accepted it because the lab said it worked.  One could argue whether the UCI should be this complacent, however their actions indicate that they are using every method available to them to combat doping. 

In addition to in-competition testing at the races, random testing, health tests and out-of-competition testing organized by USADA, the UCI and WADA, cyclists are never free from the possibility of testing, not even in the off season.  So, if nay-sayers want to argue that cycling is plagued by doping, they also have to contend that cyclists are phenomenal risk takers.  I don’t think this is the case.

VT: If you could give us an idea of what the general view of the situation is to most riders at the top level is do they want a clean sport or is it divided?

Tyler: I don’t know of anyone who trains 5 – 7 hours a day and sacrifices what cyclists do to compete at the highest level who also wants to line up against a cheater.  The best scenario possible is the development of good tests that actually do eradicate doping.  If the tests detect a method the method will go away.  If the tests are only so-so, then there will always be people who might take a chance.  Everyone I know wants sport to be clean. 

VT: Do riders face career ending situations or added danger on the road if they were to come forward?


Tyler on Mount Washington Climb 2005

Part 2 of our chat with Tyler to follow with answers to this question and more.....

 
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