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"You Can Ask Me Anything" Tyler Hamilton Interview
 
By Charlie Melk
Date: 3/22/2006
"You Can Ask Me Anything" Tyler Hamilton Interview
 
A Conversation with Tyler Hamilton
Part 2 By Charlie Melk

To many, the name Tyler Hamilton implies many things in 2006 that it didnít in 2004.† A year and a half into his suspension for allegedly transfusing someone elseís blood, and at the end of a lengthy appeal process that ultimately ended negatively for him, he waits now, readying himself for a return to the sport he loves.† But as youíll read, heís not just sitting around, letting the external events of this case happen to him.

For some, Tyler Hamilton has always been guilty.† Conversely, others will always remain faithful believers in his innocence.† Many people have already made up their minds, one way or the other, and there is seemingly little ground in the middle to waver for them. The accusations have been made, the sanction has been delivered, and the appeals have been lostóall that is left now is for him to make sense of this chapter of his life and move forward.†

Personally, I find it hard to remain unaffected by the human side of his story, especially after speaking with him.†

I found Tyler to be extraordinarily generous in both the time he took for this interview and the obvious effort he made to answer every question I had, completely and to the best of his ability.† Through talking with him, I found myself affected by his calm, insightful, and clear responses.† His openness, the details with which he supported his answers and his obvious passion for the sport of cycling all speak of a person who possesses a quiet confidence in his own innocence and a firm, implicit belief in himself.†

This interview traces Tylerís path from his earliest cycling days through his suspension, and it also addresses his hopes for the future, not only for his career but also for the sport in general.† Further on that note, all of the questions in this interview are my own.

Despite the legal travails of the past year and a half and an unsolicited view of many elements of the underbelly of the sport, Tyler remains steadfastly determined to provide honest and detailed answers to anyone who asksóand yes, that means you too.† If you do plan to ask, though, please do enough research first to make sure that your question is well-founded.† This fact sheet is a good place to start.† Many of these topics were also expanded on in this article. Within a matter of weeks, Tyler will have a forum on his website.† Until then, however, all questions can be addressed to him, in a respectful manner, as befits a genuine seeker of the truth on this matter, in his guestbook.

† Just as Tyler said to me at the beginning of this interview, ďYou can ask me anything.Ē - now he has said it to you, as well.†
Part 1 of this interview here.

Yeah, I agree.† Now back to the teams youíve ridden for and your evolution as a rider - like you said, you took baby steps every year.† After a while, you could see that with your teams, too - you could see that you were moving up in the team structure.† First you were a lieutenant at Postal, then a co-leader at CSC, and then once you went to Phonak, you were the man.†

Yeah, exactly.

So was that the intentional plan, or did it happen more on its own?

Yeah, well, a lot of people were super surprised when I left CSC . . .

I was one of them, too . . .††† ††

Well, it was a hard decision, donít get me wrong.† I had a great relationship with Bjarne Riis, and not only was he a great director - he coached me and he was a good friend.† That was a tough decision.† But I felt like I was at a point in my career where I never wanted to look back and say, ďI wish I gave myself a chance.Ē† My goal, ultimately, was to win the Tour.† Yíknow, Iíd ridden with US Postal for 3 years when we won the Tour - I know how we did it, and thatís to ride for one rider, one objective, nothing else - a 100% team effort for one individual - for one goal.†

And I didnít have that on CSC, thatís for sure.† I mean, we had a lot of different goals.† I think that year we won 3 stages with 3 different riders, we had 2 riders in the top ten and 3 in the top 20, maybe - something like that - we were in all the breakaways - we had a great Tour.† And if you look at it solely on marketing - on the amount of time we were on TV - then maybe we won the Tour in that category!

But I knew that Bjarne wasnít ready to make me the 100%, sole team leader for a race like the Tour, and put every other objective on the back seat - and he later admitted that - I donít know where, but he admitted it.† And if you asked him today, heíd probably say the same thing.† I mean, he never said it to me, but I knew, some time in the early í04 season, he finally admitted it.† And it was good to see, because a lot of people were so surprised.†

I donít ever want to look back on my career and say ďwoulda, shoulda, couldaĒ.† And, sure, I couldíve easily stayed on CSC - it was a family to me - I probably wouldíve been real happy there, but in the back of my head I wouldíve always had that question.† I mean, the focus likely wouldnít have changed.†

So when Phonak gave me the opportunity to really hand-pick a team built around me, not only with the riders, but the staff, 90% of my own equipment, my sponsors - that was a huge opportunity.† I mean, not only to be a team leader, but also to make a lot of decisions off the bike.† I mean, for me, I like that.† I like to do a lot of thinking off the bike - making decisions for the team - making decisions about whatís best for the team.† To me it was kind of a challenge.†

I mean - well, Lance obviously, but I canít tell you many riders who bring multiple riders to a team, multiple sponsors to a team, multiple staff members to a team.† Lance for sure - maybe Jan Ullrich - but not many.†

Right, that puts you on a whole different level, making those decisions.

Yeah, for sure, I think I picked 7 or 8 riders for the í05 season.† All of my sponsors, basically, came with me from CSC to Phonak, besides my bike sponsor.† So it was just a huge opportunity, and if I had it to do again, Iíd do it the sameóabsolutely.†

Well, it makes a lot more sense, talking to you about it than it did just looking in from the outside.†

Right, and I was pretty sure about what my decision was going to be during the Tour that year [2003], and Ivan Basso was looking to make a change from Fassa Bortolo - and I told him at that point that CSC was the team for him.† He was really nervous about waiting, you know, because Bjarne couldnít decide yet, but I think that I may have been partially responsible for that [Basso coming to CSC].† Really, I talked to him several times.† I talked to his trainer at the time, Luigi CecchinióI told him.† Who knows?† You know, I wanted to make sure that they [CSC] were ok.† And you know what? - theyíre ok (laughs).† Theyíre ok without me.

So when you look at your time at Postal, your time at CSC - you know, whenever you switch jobs- no matter what you do - itís always a little stressful, because everything around you changes.†

Oh yeah, right.

Yíknow, you miss people.† You miss people that you worked withópeople that you became friends with.† Who have some of your favorite teammates been?† †

Um, I donít know if I like the word favorite.† Weíll say most influential, maybe.† Obviously, a guy like Andy Hampsten - super influential in my career.† And then, moving forward, onto Lance - he did a lot for my career, and Iíve always said that I wouldnít be where I am today without him, you know?† And then, moving forward to CSC, I was able to ride with Laurent Jalabert - actually, his last year of racing, which was great.† I owe a lot to him.† Letís see - a guy with maybe less of a resume but I learned a lot from was actually his younger brother, Nicolas.† He was just a great guy, a good friend - heís a guy who would do anything for you - a super, super teammate.† And heís the one guy I brought with me from CSC to Phonak - just a great person - totally dedicated.† So those are a few names.† And, actually, Nicolas was the guy who convinced me in the í04 Tour to actually stop.

Really?

Yupóhe was kind of the last guy I talked to before I made the decision to stop.† He could see the way I was feeling, the way I was riding - I was obviously in a lot of pain in my lower back, and he convinced me that there was more in my future . . . I think the last thing he told me was, ďYou know what?óthe Tour isnít everything.Ē†

Right, to hear that from someone you respect . . .

Yeah, I have a lot of respect for him.† And it was great to see today that he helped bring Floyd to the finish line in Nice [Floyd Landis won Paris-Nice on the day of this interview].† You know, heís still doing his job and doing it at a high level.†

Going back to that pain from the 2004 Tour, but Iím even thinking more of the 2003 Tour and the 2002 Giroóyou had broken bones . . .

Yup

And you were still racing.† I donít know if itís possible for anyone who hasnít experienced it to imagine the amount of suffering involved in riding and winning a mountainous Tour stage with a fractured collarbone, or finishing second overall in the Giro with a broken shoulder.†

I mean, one thing with my collarbone, though - like, I mean, I was still in a lot of pain - but, for one thing the bone was still together, it was a v-fracture, you know?

†Right, right

If it wouldíve completely broken that wouldíve been difficult, it couldíve just stabbed me right through the skin.† That would have been super difficult.† So I was lucky in a way that it didnít completely break.† Obviously, I wouldíve been in a lot more pain.† But, yeah, a fracture in my shoulder in 2002, and early. I think it was Stage 5 of the Giro - Stage 1 of the í03 Tour (laughs), I donít know.† Certainly the Giro helped me realize that I could do it in the Tour in í03.† The Giro - luckily, I didnít know that I had a fracture until after the race was over!

Really?

The next day I was in so much pain that I went and got an x-ray, and sure enough.† Yíknow, I was pretty sure that† I had a serious problem, because the pain didnít really go away during the Giro.

Right.

But I really didnít even want to know that it was broken during the race, because at that time I knew that I had good form and I knew I had a chance to win, I didnít want anything to get in the way (laughs).†

Yeah, thatís epic.

And I almost felt the same way at the Tour in í03. I didnít want to get it x-rayed, but I really had to. It was so early in the race.†

So did the officials or doctors have any say as to whether you could continue?

Um, they donít recommend it, but they canít stop you.† I think they thought I was crazy, but after doing the Giro I knew it was possible.† Itís really just about accepting the pain and just kind of putting it - not necessarily - if youíre always resisting the pain, denying the pain - if you just accept it and know itís there and itís going to continue to be there, it kind of makes it a little bit easier.† Itís a bit of a head-game.† Really!† But 14 teeth later, man, I just ground my teeth down.†

And youíre still dealing with that.

Actually, I still am today, because I did a lot of damage in that Giro in í02, and that following off season I got a lot of teeth replaced - I got caps put on my back teeth because they were all fractured and ground down.† But then they made the caps the same size as the teeth, which were already ground down a bit, and so my biteís been off for the last couple of years.†

So this last year Iíve taken advantage of my time off and Iím kind of dealing with my teeth againógetting back to my normal bite from 12 years ago.†

Well, you wouldnít have gotten the chance otherwise, right?

Absolutely, absolutely.† I mean, Iíve taken advantage of my time at home - got my teeth taken care of.† I had laser surgery on my eyes, so now I donít need prescription glasses.† Now Iím bigger and better (laughs).† So, whoís that - the Bionic Man?† Right?

Right, right . . .

Build him bigger, better . . .

Bigger, better, faster, stronger (laughing)

Right.

So, how about the training now?†

Yeah, the training - I took a little bit of time off from training - I was expecting to be vindicated last month, didnít happen, you know.† I was training really hard.† I was planning on racing at Paris-Nice, so I was training very hard, trying to get ready for that.† It was going to be my first race in a year and a half.† Then obviously the decision didnít go our way, so I took a little down-time to ride when I felt like it.† I did some other things - did some skiing - traveled a little bit.† But now Iím back training again - focused on coming back in September.† I still feel like this time off is . . . Iím trying to look at the positives.† Itís given my body two full years to recover a bit, you know?

Right.†

You know, the off-season is never enough.† Before you know it, youíre at your December training camp, and youíre stressing about that extra 10 pounds you gainedóbefore you know it, youíre right back at it.

Well, it seems like the season keeps getting longer and longer every year.

Absolutely, it gets longer, your off-seasons get more hectic; and maybe, physically, youíre ready to start, but mentally youíre not ready to start again.† I mean, Iím hungry, I canít wait to get back.† I didnít realize how much I loved the sport of bike racing.† I knew I loved it, but I miss it so much.† I was really surprised - really, until you take a step back you donít realize it, because youíre just so in the middle of things, you donít have a chance to really look at that from the outside.† I miss competition, I miss the competing - I miss the whole atmosphere.† So I canít wait to come back.† Iím so excited, Iím going to come back stronger - thatís for sure.†

One more thing, Iím 35 - just turned 35 a couple of weeks ago - most people who ride, 35, thatís pretty much the end of your career, but now I feel like, with this break - Iím not trying to spin another positive angle on this whole thing; but it certainly lengthened my career.† I mean, Iím not tired.† Iím hungry to race a lot longer.† You canít really put a number of years on it, but I donít feel 35 and washed up, thatís for sure.†

Thatís what I was wondering.

Yeah, not at all.† If you said today, youíve got to race 5 more years, Iíd say, ďBring it on.Ē

So, with your training, do you still shoot for certain numbers, or arenít you doing that at this point yet?

Um, I will, but another thing I didnít mention is that all í05 I kept getting ready my supposed re-start to cycling, because this whole last year and a half, itís been just small, little . . . by September í04 it was like, ďOk, by November thisíll be cleared up.Ē† And then, ďOk, itís gonna be JanuaryĒ and then ďOk, itís gonna be FebruaryĒ.† ďNow itís gonna be AprilĒ.† But in a strange way it was good because it kind of kept me on top of my gameómaybe not 100% on top, but it kept me training hard.† I kept ramping it up, thinking, ďOk, Iím going to start my season here.Ē† There were probably 6 separate times that I was planning on starting my racing season again.† So, in a way it kind of kept me in shape and kept me on top of it.† I did some motor pacing - did a lot of testing.† So, again, I was ready at the beginning of February.†

After my hearing in January with CAS, I went straight over to Europe and started training.† And then I came back just before the decision.† I mean, I left all my stuff over there - thatís how confident I was that I was going to be vindicated.† I left my suitcases, my bike - I went to train in Italy and I left my car in Italy, and I live in Spain (we both laugh).† I mean, itís funny, but, well, it is funny.† Thatís how confident I was.† I mean all of my crap is in Tuscany right now! (more laughter) - my bike, my car, and two suitcases! - because I planned on coming back two weeks later.† But seriously, I wasnít planning on not going back real quickly.†

But, again, I was relatively fit at the beginning of February - fit enough to start the season, thatís for sure.† Fit enough to compete in a race like Paris-Nice.† Certainly not fit enough to win, but fit enough to get back in the ball game.†

So I took a little time off and now Iím just starting up again.† You know I ride every day, 4-6 hours a day, maybe 3-6 hours a day - today was a little less.† So, yeah, Iíll start ramping it up and do some motor-pacing this spring.† You have to work hard.† Missing out on racing is really missing out on the top-end of training.† Racing makes you stronger.† You canít train that much harder.†

Thatís why I asked, because itís got to be hard to try to train the racing into your legs.

Yeah, yeah - so a lot of motor pacing - a lot of digging deeper into the pain.

But youíre used to that.

Yeah, but it also takes motivation.† If youíre not motivated, you canít do it - absolutely.† You need a lot of motivation to do that.† I mean, sure, you can ride youíre bike every day, thatís easy; but to go out and make yourself suffer, and then suffer some more . . . but, no, Iíll be ready in September.†

So do you have a team yet?

Um, Iím talking to teams. I canít really say which ones yet; but thereís certainly interest - thatís nice to know.† And a lot of the people I talk to donít believe Iím at home for the right reasons.† Thatís good to hear as well.†

Well, it shows that you havenít wasted all of this effort and all of this money . . .

Well, itís frustrating that Iím at home, itís really frustrating.† I didnít blood dope - Iíll say that until the day I die - thatís not going to change.† I know the truth - obviously the panel members, the jury members, at the CAS hearing didnít see that.† Itís frustrating.† I wish I could talk to them.† I was so, so confident, but it just didnít work out.†

Well what would you say to people - fans - around the world, those who want to believe in you.

Sure, sure - I understand.† What they probably read in a 500 word article in a newspaper isnít very good, you know?

Right, right.

A lot of stuff has unfortunately been regurgitated from the first few days of this whole catastrophe.† And a lot of the stuff out there is not 100% correct.† And a lot of the facts just arenít reported at all, as you probably saw in the article in the Daily Peloton.†

But, you know, anybody who has any questions, well first they should read all the factsóthey should do some research - you have to search for it a little bit - I mean, my website (http://www.tylerhamilton.com/) has a lot of stuff - obviously, you guys have printed some stuff.† Youíre not going to find it on most websites, I guess you could say.

But if they have any questions, Iíd be more than happyóweíre going to make a forum for people to write in questions on my website.† Itís not up yet, but it will be up.† At the moment they can write their questions on my Guestbook (http://www.tylerhamilton.com/guestbook94.html), and weíll try to address them all.† But, eventually, there will be a forum in the next couple weeks.† I can answer any of them.† Iím not afraid of any questions.† Thatís the way Iíve been from day one.† I have nothing to hide.

So what have you learned in the last year and a half about your character, your friends, your family?† Tough times have a way of teaching a person a lot about who they are.

Yeah, well, this has been a great† . . . Iíve learned a whole lot through this process.† As crazy as it sounds, I have a lot to be thankful for - just because Iíve had so many friends and family there for me.† It makes me realize that I have so much beyond cycling.† Cycling, for me - sure, itís my career, but itís only a small part of my life, and itís certainly not the most important part of my life.† And itís given me a lot of clarity too - thatís been probably the biggest thing - just really who is important to me and how important they are.† Before, maybe, I was just so distracted because I had so many things going on.† Just, my life was crazy, so busy, so hectic; but now I think my life is a little bit more simple, and it will remain that way after I start racing again.† Because I know what the important things are in my life.† Yeah, itís allowed me to have a lot more clarity.† I donít know if thatís too vague, but . . .

No, no no . . . I think thatís just about the best answer you could give.† Youíve got to be so focused when youíre racing.† Youíve got to be so focused on you . . .

Right

†. . . and looking forward all the time.† Thereís not enough time to reflect, to look back.†

No, thereís not enough time to reflect.† Thereís not enough time to say, ďOk, here, letís take a step back, whatís kind of important, whatís sort of important, whatís really importantĒ, you know?

Right

And now I know.† Before, maybe, I couldnít have figured it out, but now thatís an easy question to answer.†

Yeah, so like you said beforeóthere are some good things that came out of this.†

Oh, absolutely, absolutely, you know, Iím going to come out of this so much stronger.† Thatís for sure, to go through something like this - I mean, I already feel stronger, and Iíve always felt even keeled, but I think Iím even more even keeled than I was before.† But itís also taught me, I mean, every time I heard something before this, I tended to believe it.† Now I think twice about a lot of stuff - just in every day life!† I mean, Iíll hear something on the news - itís funny how on the news you hear one thing and then in Spain you hear something else.† Know what I mean?† Talking about the war, or something else like that.†

Oh yeah, Iíve noticed that for sure.† Even in the cycling press . . .

Yeah, exactly.

I mean, somebody says something in French and then it gets translated one way on an Italian site, and a Spanish site translates it another way . . .

Oh yeah, yeah; thatís terrible the way they do that.

Yeah, I mean, the translations are totally off from one another . . .

Yeah, or they just make their own ďguestimationsĒ about what they were thinking or trying to say.† And a lot of these riders I know personally.† Some are good friends and some I just know - and I know what theyíre writing is incorrect, or a big stretch of the truth.†

Yeah, well it seems like they have these words to work with, and there is some leeway there to spin the translation one way or the other.† Itís really common, you can see it happening all the time.

Yeah, itís pretty wild.

Okóanything elseóany final thoughts that you have?

Well, againóIím not afraid to answer any questions.† If anybody has any questions for me, theyíre welcome to ask.† They can come to my website and Iíll try my best to answer them all.† I want people to know this story.† Eventually, I will write a book about this, thatís the plan - not to sell books or make any money - it has nothing to do with that - just because itís a crazy story, and thereís a lot out there, thereís a lot out there that people donít know about.†

Thereíre a lot of people who havenít done the correct things here, and I want people to know that.† Obviously, up until now, Iím about the only one who has suffered the consequences, but thereíre a lot of facts out there that people donít even know about.†

Thereíre some organizations associated with cycling that need to change a little bit, letís say it that way (laughs).† And I want to help. I want to put whatís happened in the past behind me, and, for me, itís really about preserving the sport - allowing it to grow.† Itís such a beautiful sport, and itís just a small little speck on the map here in the US.† I can just imagine some day, if itís something kids wanted to take up, like football, baseball, basketball - I think itís the kind of sport where - itís taken off in Europe.† Obviously, thereís a lot more history there, but weíre heading in the right direction.†

Yeah, when you look at the Tour of California and the crowds they had there.† Itís been building for a while.† The base seems a lot broader now than it used to be.

Yeah, definitely. we just have to; I mean cyclingís taken a big hit over the years.†† Hopefully, that wonít continue.† Thereís been a lot of negativity - sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong reasons - and I think itís going to definitely have to come down to the riders if weíre going to make a change.†

In the future, the riders are going to have to take more of a stand - I mean, thereís a lot of stuff that the riders arenít happy with that, maybe, theyíre too afraid to take a stand, and you have to take a stand - really, because theyíre the sport.†† So Iíll try to help out with that and lead the charge, so to speak.† Not for me, because, really, Iím certainly in the last part of my career.† I was, for example, training with a guy over in Italy - Thomas Dekker - heís actually leading Tirreno-Adriatico right now [and he ended up winning, ed.].†

Yeah, I saw that.† Heís a special rider.

Yeah, heís 21 years old, huge talent, heís one of the people that will make up the future of the sport - heís a potential, multi-Tour de France winner.† Itís really going to take the riders stepping up for the future of the sport, and Thomas Dekker is the future of the sport.† I was training with him over in Tuscany in January.† For me, the riders need to take a stand, because if they donít, some of these organizations will just keep taking advantage, and guys like Thomas Dekker will suffer.†

Rightótheir position will never improve.

Exactly, but Iím not just saying this for the reasons youíre probably thinking about - for example, anti-doping.† Obviously, thatís one of the problems, but just riders having a say in the way that races are held - the way finishes are set up - just more of a say in the sport.† Iím not trying to bash the Pro Tour, but I wish the riders had more of a say in the way that the Pro Tour was built.†

I mean, if the sportís going to grow the way it should grow - personally, I think itís going to grow regardless; but if itís going to grow the way it should, then the riders should have a say, because weíre an important part of the equation - not the only part obviously, but an important part.† Thereís one variable just missing - especially now, looking in from the outside; Iíve had some time to look more closely, and thereíre so many decisions being made without the riders having, really, any voice.†

Yeah, right - youíre not cannon fodder, right?

Well, Iím not pointing to any one particular organization.† Iím just kind of generalizing here.† Iíve seen a lot more of the inner circle here, and Iíve seen a lot more of the problems in the last year and a half.† Things could change, you know? - things could be better.† Thatís one thing I could help bring to the sport, thatís for sure.† The sportís done a lot for me, thatís for sure, and I want to give back.†

My plans arenít just to leave the sport when my career is over. I want to make sure that the sport continues to grow, especially here in the US.† I mean, Iíve seen where itís been, where it is now, and where it could go - itís exciting.† You just have to have the right organization in charge.† I mean, there arenít enough checks and balances.† Thatís not pointing at one particular organization.† The riders should have a say.† People from the outside world without personal objectives should be asked for feedback, you know?† There arenít enough checks and balances.†

We wouldnít have the same perspective that you do as a rider, but anyone who follows the sport can see it; itís there.† Itís obvious.†

Yeah, I mean the anti-doping lab that said I was positive - they helped develop the test, they ran the test, and then they received all of the financial benefit from the test.†

Yeah - thatís not right.† Now they have a vested interest in making the test successful.

Right, and that would never happen in the US.† I mean, fine if they helped develop the test, but they could never run the test if thereís a financial incentive there. †But, on the flip side, I canít wait to get back to racing.† I mean, cycling is a beautiful sport. I wish people focused more on that.† Unfortunately, these days, thereís a lot of negativity in the sport of cycling - in the press, and especially in the general press.† But itís a beautiful sport - a beautiful sport, and I canít wait to come back to it.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to the DP, and good luck, Tyler.

Charlie Melk Interviews:
"You Can Ask Me Anything"
A conversation with Tyler Hamilton Part 1

Andy Hampsten - An American Pioneer
Andy Hampsten - The Interview
Andy Hampsten Interview #2: Racing Stories
Chris Horner: Back to the Big Leagues
Chris Horner: Back to the Big Leagues - Part Two
The Gamble Pays Off--Catching Up with Chris Horner
Mike Creed:
Feeling Better and Looking Ahead--a Conversation with Creed
Erik Saunders Interview: Talking Straight
Erik Saunders Interview: Part Two
Erik Saunders Interview: Part Three
John Lieswyn: Student of Life: An Interview with John Lieswyn
Reference:
Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 1
Tyler Hamilton Interview Part 2

 
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