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Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 2
 
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 3/2/2006
Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 2
 

Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 2
Introduction:
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 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 on his way to winning 2005 Mt. Washington Hill Climb, 7.6 mile, avg, grade 12%, †with extended sections of 18% and the last 50 yards is an amazing 22%. Time: 51:56

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.
continued part 2... interview with Tyler "Nails" Hamilton...

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

Tyler: I donít really know of a scenario under which this would occur. Doping is not something you hear athletes talk about.† Lance Armstrong has always said if you are going to make an extraordinary accusation, you need extraordinary proof.† It stands to reason that if someone is up to something, they are not going to be bragging about it or doing it in public. I would hate to see a Salem Witch Trials culture emerging where a jealous competitor makes an accusation out of frustration.† But on the other side of things, if someone has evidence of something going on that could put their team in jeopardy, then they bear the responsibility of sharing that information with team management regardless of who it might upset.

VT: I would encourage all interested fans to read the info on your site. But in spite of the testimony of your expert witnesses (Conclusions drawn by Tyler Hamilton & his experts) to the contrary, Chris Campbellís dissenting opinion, and the information you presented; CAS chose to find against you. Did you feel that the hearing was as fairly conducted as it could have been, or that the decision was based on some other arbitrary?

In your opening to your statement you said, ďBased on my devastating personal experience over the last year and a half, I am committed to fighting for reform within the anti-doping movement. I do support the anti-doping mission and USADA, however the current system has failed an innocent athlete and needs to change.Ē

What would you like to see done in the way of reform not only to protect innocent riders and athletes but to put in place a system that is honest and workable to eliminate cheating. (Info: This has been a hot topic the www.dailypeloton.comforums) in the last year with riders and fans debating how the system should change and become more effective and fair for all athletes.

Tyler: I think the system needs objectivity and more independent input from the larger medical community.† And above all, the athletes need more respect. Some ideas are

  • Get the NIH or World Health Organization involved with developing and reviewing test methods†
  • Have WADA sponsor programs at leading universities to get students and researchers involved with the anti doping mission†
  • Establish clear separation between the agencies that develop new tests and adjudicate the results of those tests.
  • Sanctions for anti doping violations need to be more realistic.† Seeing Zach Lund (Olympic Skeleton racer) suspended for a year even though the court didnít think he was a ďcheatĒ is far too harsh and out of line with other sanctions.†
  • A list of ďapprovedĒ supplements should be established so athletes no longer have to be branded ďcheatersĒ or miss important competitions for having taken something containing traces of unlisted substances.† Rumor has it that one of these agencies has a list of supplements....
  • The rules and laws that govern the anti doping code should more closely resemble a real court.† If my case took place in the real court of law, I would be racing my bike right now.
  • Athletes should not have to rely on the experience of a ďspecialistĒ who understands the anti doping judicial system. There must be a fair system with checks and balances.
  • Proper financing of new tests is also essential.† The USADA budget for research is roughly $2 million per year.† Only $50,000 was allocated for the HBTT. But hundreds of thousands were spent defending the test in my case.† The ratio is backwards.† If one large grant funded research (i.e. $1 million per test) then proper validation could be conducted and athletes could be more confident that the tests worked
  • Finally, and maybe the most important thing is giving the athletes a voice. Those whose lives are most impacted by this system should have a say in it. In the current process they have no say.† Some officials act like athletes are disposable.† If they really cared about cleaning up sport, they would work with the athletes instead of against them.

VT: I think anyone would accept these as reasonable reforms. Do you see the doping issue as more a health issue or an ethical dilemma of cheating?

Tyler: Itís both.† Take the HBTT for instance.† The ethical dilemma is an obvious one.† Someone would have to be horribly desperate to justify resorting to such an option in the first place.† But in addition to that, theyíd be risking their life.† Steroid or EPO use may catch up with you over time if you abused either on a long-term basis.† But one transfusion could kill you.† Thatís an awfully huge risk to weigh especially considering the performance benefits of a transfusion would last less than a week. And in addition to that, you could potentially test positive for 4 months. I love the bike, but I canít imagine a scenario where this could be rationalized.

VT: Your opinion of the 5 day bans recently given to Olympic athletes without a positive test?

Tyler: The health tests are a good insurance policy for the anti doping mission because they provide an additional level of monitoring.† However, these tests are not always 100% accurate.† Hereís an example from my own experience. In 2004 it was reported that I had a high hematocrit at the Tour of Romandie.† My team challenged the reading because it was way above the teamís own reading (teams test simultaneously just in case there is a dispute). Four point gains were registered for me and two other teammates had just been tested four days earlier at another race that was held back to back with the Tour of Romandie.

Because the ďhigherĒ HCT data was used against me during my case as supporting evidence, we compelled the calibration data for the machine.† It showed the machine had a consistently high bias for nearly the entire season of 2004.† It also showed that the machine is only accurate within a range of plus or minus 2.5%.†

When you see data like this and you also consider that these machines are portable, and a number of other factors can influence the outcome of these tests like: dehydration, how long youíve been sitting before the blood draw and how long the tourniquet is on your arm Ė you realize that these numbers are not absolute.† Itís why no one is charged with a doping offense based off these readings.† For these reasons I think health test warnings should be kept confidential.† However, the current culture promotes slandering athletes at every opportunity.† Just look at the cross-country skiers at the Olympics Ė the headlines all imply doping, and very few people read far enough to find out that it is not.† In fact, Dick Pound even said it indicated doping Ė that is irresponsible.† This sort of sensationalizing stands to hurt sports more than it helps.† Especially if the numbers are not concrete to begin with.

VT: At this point Tyler, do you walk into the future feeling that your integrity is whole in spite of what some might think or have said?

Tyler: Haven and I have been saying all along Ė fill a stadium with people who donít believe me and let them ask me anything they want.† I have nothing to hide.† I know my integrity is still intact.† I can walk with my head held high because I know the truth.† So many people have speculated that Iím lying and that at some point Iím going to crack and admit that I blood doped.† This is ridiculous.† I am not going to admit to something I didnít do.† I would not have fought as hard as I did and partnered with some of the most prestigious scientists in the world to defend myself unless I was in pursuit of the truth. And certainly, the experts we worked with from Harvard Medical School, MIT and Puget Sound Blood Center to name a few, would have been bright enough to figure out if I were lying. You canít fool scientists of this caliber.

People donít know the lengths I went to get to the bottom of my case.† From demanding re-tests, to storing blood close in time to the charge, to working with researchers to try to recreate the test, to asking my teammates, sponsors and close friends and family to be blood tested to prove they were not potential donors, to allowing my blood to be DNA tested. I did everything I could.† But at the end of the day, Iím an athlete not a scientist.† The learning curve was unbelievably enormous from a medical standpoint but I think we did everything we could.

Iím still at a loss for why this test even exists.† Iíve never even heard so much as a rumor of someone doing this.† Even after the year and half weíve been caught up in this ordeal I donít know how anyone could go about this. Blood isnít something you buy on the black market, and people die in hospitals all the time from well matched transfusions.† If this was really going on in sports, weíd be hearing more about the catastrophic side effects, Iím sure.† I hope that over time, when people have had time to allow some of the facts to come into play and apply a little common sense, that they will see how ridiculous this has all been.

VT: Just amazing, that a faulty test report from an out of calibration machine could be used as evidence.
Euskaltel-Euskadi manager Manuel Madariaga commented after the ban on Roberto Heras, "It's a strong blow for cycling, and the solutions that they are taking aren't the right ones. Doping will not cease with more sanctions or prosecutions." I tend to agree with MadariagaÖ The question is what is the way out of the maze we are in?

Tyler: †Doping cases have to mean something.† They shouldnít leave people confused.† Robertoís case raises more questions than it answers.† No one who follows cycling closely can justify the timing of the allegation.† It seems inconceivable that someone with the lead he had in the Vuelta would choose to dope on the second to last day.† Itís just as irrational as Santi Perez blood doping in the off season.† Or me blood doping a month before the start of the Tour when I had no objectives.† These allegations have to be looked at in context.† Re-running Herasís B test, holding Perezís hearing without him, and ignoring all the glaring issues we raised in my case are behaviors of a flawed system.† I support the anti doping mission but the tests and the system in general, need to be of the highest integrity.† If they were, athletes with elevated hemoglobin readings wouldnít have to be scandalized.† Instead, media reports could focus on how clean sports are as a result, not how dirty the athletes are.

VT: I agree Tyler. On this topic of punishment and reform, would you favor an amnesty of riders after a reform of the system unless it had an open admission of guilt by the rider? And while were on the topic wouldnít:
(1) lesser penalties or sidelining a rider for lesser infractions, (2) a gradient of bans leading to severe or longer bans for second, and (3) some form of rehabilitation or effort to get the offender to make amends for what damage he has done be more workable?

Tyler: You raise interesting points that I think are all valid. One the one hand WADA has to send a strong message that they are serious about sanctioning cheaters.† However, an argument can also be made that the WADA sanctions are overbearing.†

Just look at the Zach Lund case.†† Prescription medication he was taking for years to treat hair loss went on the banned list in 2005.† He didnít realize this and continued taking the medication.† He was tested eight times in 2005.† All eight times he listed the medication on his doping control forms.† The first seven times the control officers missed it.† The eighth time they caught it and called him positive.† USADA issued a rare and first of its kind warning to Zach and made him forfeit his race result from the 8th event.† WADA didnít approve of the ruling and appealed the decision before CAS in Turino.† CAS heard the case and handed down an astonishing one year suspension while simultaneously stating in their opinion they were certain Zach Lund was not a cheater.† Now heís sitting out a year of competition, and being forced to wait four years for another chance to compete at the Olympics.†

When you compare this case to a steroid positive in the NFL, where the athlete is only suspended for 4 games, the contrast is pretty startling.† But the message is clear, WADA wants the greatest punishment possible applied in every case. But throwing the book at everyone is like sentencing jay walkers and bank robbers to the same punishment.† There should be some middle ground for smaller or first time infractions. ††In a regular court a defendant is evaluated using a number of factors including whether itís a first offense, what outside factors led to the offense, what role the defendant plays in their community, etc.† The current anti doping system does not mirror traditional court systems. In addition to that, athletes are forced to hire their own lawyers and scientific experts and do all the discovery about their case, the test used against them and the results on their own.† This alone prevents most athletes from properly defending themselves because they donít have the resources to do this kind of work.† And there has never been a strong educational or rehabilitative component to this system as far as I have ever known, except for the publication of a banned substance list.† If the health of the athletes is a real priority, then these areas should be a bigger focus.

VT: A few years ago Lance Armstrong mentioned that he would like to see a union in place to work for the benefit of the riders. In the last two years John Lieswynn proposed to do so for the North American riders. In your statement you too speak of supporting the formation of a union. ďI will also continue to support the formation of unions to help protect the rights of athletes.Ē† What is the response from other pro riders on forming a union? How do you see a union would work in regards to protecting riderís rights with the UCI, WADA, Race Organizers etc. Would this improve the sport in the long run or make it too expensive for teams as some claim?

Tyler: I think a riders union would be beneficial because it would make the competitors participants in the decision making within their sport.† For instance, I never knew that the UCI didnít require validation documentation for a new anti doping test.† They simply trust the labs and their expertise. (The lab that ran my HBTT didnít receive independent accreditation from the ISO to run the test until October 2005.) A union, on the other hand, would require proof that a test worked before it was accepted for use.† The athletes should have a voice as they are a significant part of the sport.† A union would also be a resource for all kinds of issues from understanding new rules and regulations to financial planning for the athletes to raising course safety issues. This system works within the major sports in the US, tennis, European football and others.† Thereís no reason it couldnít be applied in cycling.

VT: Some see the Pro Tour as being the NASCAR - isation of pro cycling that endangers the great traditions and races that have evolved over the last hundred years. Do you have an opinion on how it is and what might make a better approach/organization of races/teams for the organizers, riders and fans?

Tyler: Designing and rolling out the Pro Tour is an enormous endeavor.† From what I can tell, the goal of the Pro Tour seems to be securing the future of the sport, which I think is admirable.† But it looks as though there is a lack of collaboration between the interested parties.† Human beings seem naturally adverse to change, especially if itís forced on them and they donít feel as though theyíve had an appropriate say in the new standard.† It has been sad to see some of the more storied races drop off the calendar because they didnít meet the new Pro Tour criteria.† Preparing for the future while simultaneously respecting the past is a tall order.† But cycling is a sport built on history and lore.† To ignore that would be unfortunate.

VT: Agreed. Do you think a riders union could have an impact in this impasse with the UCI, Grand Tour other race organizers to protect the traditions and resolve the current conflicts?

Tyler: I like the idea in giving the riders a say and donít see how incorporating their input could hurt.† I think the riders could provide productive and useful input across the board.† Donít forget, itís the athletes who do the competing. So they know what it feels like to be on the road 200 days a year and racing 120 days.† The situation right now is similar to what happened in triathlon when the Iron Man races pulled away from their governing federation.† Now there are two separate organizations and the athletes bounce between them. I donít know if things will go this far in cycling and hope that wonít be the case.† I think itís important for the leadership of the sport to listen to the feedback they receive and incorporate it in a useful way.† Ideally, it should come from as many perspectives as possible.

VT: I understand that youíve continued to train and are fit. I hear from many fans who are eager for your return to racing. Any idea what team you will ride with? What races will you target when you return to racing in September?

Tyler: I had spoken to a number of teams before my decision came down and was ultimately hoping to return to racing with Phonak.† With the decision being what it is, obviously I have to revisit any previous discussions Iíve had.† I donít want to end my career on this note, and will absolutely return to racing, hopefully later this year. My suspension is scheduled to end one day after the Individual Time Trial which is disappointing.† I would have liked to return for that.† However, I will be cleared by the Road Race which I hope to do on the 24th.† Beyond that I canít really speculate because a lot has to be ironed out before I could set a schedule.† But October still offers a full month of racing, and obviously if I were on a Pro Tour team by that point, Iíd want to do all the racing I could.

VT: In a last comment is there any advice you would give a young man who wants to go pro?

Tyler: If you are lucky enough to transform your passion for riding into your livelihood, then you owe it to yourself to follow that dream.† Cycling is a demanding sport that will require you to endure suffering and sacrifice on levels you probably have never imagined but if you make it through, youíll experience tremendous reward.† Make the most of every opportunity you have on the bike, and never take a single one of them for granted.


Tyler with Jr. racers from the RMCEF Team (Rocky Mtn. Cycling Education Foundation)**

VT: Ok we canít end this interview without a few questions about the Tyler Hamilton Foundation. Right now the foundation has 142 items in the auction that closes on February 28th. Including some spectacular ones like your 2004 signed Phonak Jersey, and a 2005 Phonak jersey signed by the team, nice to see you have their support by the way. Train with Tyler package! (follow the links to bid.***) You also are one busy guy with the foundation with multiple activities to support M.S. research for a cure.
Why did you choose Multiple Sclerosis as your focus with the foundation?

Tyler: I have a very close friend from the Boston area whoís mother has MS.† He asked me to get involved with the National MS Society back in the mid-90s and help promote the MS Cycling Series and MS 150 fund raising rides.† This community had an immediate impact on me and I became more and more involved with the organization over the years. I was amazed to see so many people suffering from the disease actually doing the rides.† I had the wrong impression about MS, that it was an immediate sentence to a wheelchair.† I was inspired by the way these folks used cycling to stay fit and fight the disease.† Each of them were facing my worst nightmare; a future of impaired physically ability, and I wanted to do all that I could to inspire and help them stay healthy. In 2003 we established the MS Global fund raising ride, which is a one week ride every September in Europe that supports the International Multiple Sclerosis Foundationís Jacqueline DuPre Fund, dedicated to supporting research for a cure.† When we established this ride, we also established the Foundation to maximize the fund raising potential of the event.†


"Thumbs up" in Girona at the end of† MS Global

VT: A word about how others can support THF?

Tyler: As you mentioned above, we are hosting an online auction through the end of February.† There are a number of great items to bid on generously donated from folks all over the country.†† MS Global will be traveling to Switzerland, Italy and France in September.† We hope to host the 3rd annual Live Loud Large live viewing of a Tour de France stage at regal cinemas again across the country. We also partner with a number of other events throughout the year which is updated on our website www.tylerhamiltonfoundation.org

Thanks Tyler, I for one, look forward to seeing you in action racing in the Pro Peloton in Europe and with any luck here in the USA too.

Photo credits c.Tyler Hamilton Foundation unless otherwise noted.

**THF is proud to sponsor the junior category of the upcoming Boulder, Colorado based races:
Criteriums @ Stazio: March 5, 12, 19, 26
Boulder Roubaix Road Race: Saturday, April 8
Boulder Larimer Road Race, Saturday, April 15
Hammer @ The Slammer, Saturday, April 23
Racers age 18 and younger ride for free. Take this opportunity to try it out! Information

***(Editors note: This interview took place and was scheduled to be published previous to the Tyler Hamilton Foundation Auction, which ended this week. Tour of California coverage delayed publication of this interview. More info on THF via the links provided above; watch for coming THF auctions.)

 
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