Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hamilton, Finished


USADA has handed down an eight-year suspension for Tyler Hamilton. The Rock Racing rider tested positive in February tested positive for testosterone or its precursors in February. When the announcement for the non-negative result was announced, Hamilton declined the B sample test and immediately admitted he had taken the steroid DHEA as an alternative to prescription antidepressants in an effort to combat depression.

Hamilton retired immediately. As noted by USADA’s CEO Travis Tygart, Hamilton’s eight-year penalty is effectively a lifetime ban for the 38-year old cyclist.

For his part, Hamilton said he was disappointed by the ban, “The eight-year suspension is unfortunate and disheartening. At this time, however, my focus remains on my mother, my family, battling my depression and getting better. This has been an extremely difficult and trying period, but I am determined to get through it.”

The length of the ban is irrelevant to all but those closest to him. Even if the planets had aligned to dismiss consideration for the principle of strict liability, he would likely still have received a ban of two years. Did Hamilton really think he would have had the legs of Joop Zoetemelk or even Kent Bostick at 40?

"Although we believe the sanction is exceptionally harsh and completely disproportional to the transgression, Tyler has chosen to focus on getting better instead of fighting a pointless battle against the anti-doping regime," said Chris Manderson, Hamilton’s counsel.

Hindsight is blah, blah, blah. If we set aside the anger we felt when we heard he tested positive—the first time—and apply honesty to our recollections of Hamilton’s career, most of us will recall the jubilation and shock we felt when we heard that an American had won the Gold Medal in the ITT at the 2004 Summer Olympics. When we learned it was Hamilton, surprise was added to our jubilation.

Hamilton gave the United States its first victory in a Monument—Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Who can forget his performance in the 2003 Tour de France following his broken collarbone, not to mention his epic breakaway through the Pyrenees on his way to winning stage 16 in Bayonne? And what of his second place and stage win at the 2002 Giro d’Italia, despite a broken shoulder?

Should we excuse his doping? No. The wheels of justice have turned and by at least one objective measure things are as they should be. Should we turn our backs on his earlier results? Depends on your point of view. Most cycling fans will admit that at his best, Hamilton was surrounded by other riders who were engaged in similar levels of doping and so he was most probably playing on a relatively level field. And if that sounds like a tacit acceptance of his doping on some level, then consider this: Even after throwing out his results you are left with a guy who rode through broken bones and molars ground to expose nerves. In the annals of hard men, those stories earned him a permanent seat at the bar.

Hamilton’s end as a rider is sad and ignominious. But given what we know of the time in which he competed on the international stage, he did achieve memorable results. The inspiration we felt to see his courage is worth remembering.

Image courtesy of John Pierce, Photosport International.

14 comments:

Oli Brooke-White said...

I still think he was framed!

Jan said...

Padraig, I love your posts! Thanks for being such a wonderful and busy blogger.

ridgeandjenny said...

As an American cycling fan, I was inspired and hopeful for Tyler Hamilton's potential. He was a good domestique with Postal but never a true GC contender. Ty should have focused on the classics and fulfilled his potential as a hard man. I think the most disillusioning thing is the personal story. I have ridden with a family member of Haven's and the sad thing is that this person truly beleved that Tyler had done no wrong. To me, the challenges presented by doping in sport are parallel to our current social problems. No rider that has been caught thus far has 100% accepted the blame for their actions. Its always the industry or the peloton or sponsors that inspired them to dope. I am tired of bitterness and the lack of accountability. I will still watch, but always with an air of sadness and suspicion. I wish I had an example of a 100% undoubtedly clean rider, but I can't be sure anymore...

velomonkey said...

He was/is one my more favorite riders. You just felt like you knew the guy - George and Lance never had that. His riding style was unorthodox, but peddling through pain there is no one stronger. I wish him well and it seem he has taken all this to heart, but that's what nice guys do.

As an end note - Lance twittered the other night that he had dinner with Ty's ex wife Haven. That knife must really hurt.

Tim C said...

I'll always remember Hamilton as the guy who used the vanishing twin defense and suckered his fans into giving him money for his defense fund, not for his achievements on the bike.

AH said...

A guy showed up on our local group ride the other night wearing Tyler Hamilton Foundation shorts. It was all I could do to restrain myself from screaming "fraud!!!" But then again it was probably laundry day for the poor guy and they were his only pair of clean shorts.

Eloy said...

Padraig, both the Liege and Olympic victory are tainted.

Jimmy said...

Yeah he cheated, but riding through the pain... he is no ordinary man, he is a piece of iron.

Personally, I worry about him now. He has discussed depression and that is a terrible illness.

Dan O said...

Nice write up - as usual. This blog is awesome.

Sad ending for a racing career. Tyler was always a stand out racer who was fun to read about - racing while hurt, grinding teeth - dude was tough.

I didn't know what to believe after the first doping scandal. Why would someone be so vocal and public defending himself, if it was a lie? Was it a lie? Who knows?

Now with this going down, cast some doubt on the first episode for sure.

Still, I worry about the guy myself - his fault or not - life has been tuned upside down over the last few years. I hope he does okay and pulls out of all this.

Jason said...

My old and worn VHS tape of his 03 Tour stage victory still makes an appearance at least once a winter whilst I'm on the trainer. As does Floyd's breakaway win, and a few other amazing stages and races in which it later came out that the winner was putting something in his arm, up his nose, on his nether regions, etc.,

I've always likened watching SOME Pro cycling like watching P*rn. I know they're faking (doped), and I can't imagine doing what they are doing in real life, but sometimes I just need a little something to get through the night (or should I say hour on the trainer while snow falls?).

It was sad to see Hamilton fall like he did. To watch the bad choices unfold. To see the repercussions. I wish him the best in turning life around and finding help. He's too young to let bad choices effect the rest of his life. One word sums up my fear of what will become of him. Pantani.

Jim said...

It's not the doping that makes me dislike the guy. It's the lies, excuses, and self-pity. Odd example of a guy who seems to have enormous physical courage, but appears to lack the moral sort.

Dan said...

I wish him well in his challenge to get well. I agree with one of the other posts in that with Tyler, you just felt that you knew the guy. I always liked his meek enigmatic answers to interviewers. His Olympic medal doesn't register to me as a great achievement of his as it was likely a result of cheating. I just love how hard he was and that it was wrapped up in a meek little package makes his Rabo-ness all the better!

Tyler, do the sport a favor and take a public stance against cheating in sports. Help our sport clean up would you? You sorta owe it to us.

Good luck Tyler and thanks for the memories.

D

Padraig said...

Thanks all for the great comments and the compliments.

I have a good friend who knew Tyler from the time he was a junior. I can't call him a friend, but we are well enough acquainted that he knows me on sight. I've talked to the guy plenty and I have heard plenty more stories from over the years.

Everything I know of the guy outside of the doping says he is 100% a class act. Unfailingly polite, kind, humble, just the sort of guy you'd want to do long miles with.

Doping seemed so unlikely for him. Many have said that doping is the price of admission for the pro ranks, that it's a deal struck with the devil.

In Hamilton, I see humanity, a normal guy with extraordinary gifts. For me, he has put a human face on the blackmail one faces in the pro ranks. I can't help but think, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Brian Kall said...

I would be depressed too if I knew that the only reason I ever won a race was due to performance enhancers. Every one of his results is tainted. I am disgusted to read article after article commending these riders exploits who were doped to the gills. Sure Pantani was an explosive, charismatic rider. But he was flying on EPO!!! The fact that he and Tyler still have fans is only because people continue to overlook the fact that early results were also due to doping, but they went undetected.