By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento, California
Rock Racing's Tyler Hamilton has taken himself off the list of favorites to win the Tour of California. The US National Champion arrived on the west coast after taking five weeks at his Boston home to care for his mother who suffers from breast cancer.
Hamilton admitted he is not on top form as he has been dealing with family issues back home on the wintery east coast. "I've been back in Boston and the weather hasn't been nice," Hamilton said. "I've spent most of that time on an indoor trainer. So I will take myself out of that list of [contending] riders. Hopefully a [Oscar] Sevilla, [Francisco] Mancebo, [Chris] Baldwin and [Enrique] Gutierrez can fill that void."
With four ex-Grand Tour riders competing in the event, Hamilton is confident his squad will yield a podium rider by the end of the week. "As for myself, I'll just take it day by day and hope that I can do something in the stages to support my teammates," he continued. "[Freddy] Rodriguez is going very well, this year. He is a step or two above where he was last year. I'll be a domestique in this race and I'll be happy to do it."
Hamilton noted his excitement to be invited to participate in the fourth annual event. Last year, he and Sevilla along with former teammate Santiago Botero were not permitted to take part because they were involved in an open investigation for their ties to Operacion Puerto.
"I'm not looking back to last year," Hamilton said. "I'm just excited to be in the race this year. We are looking forward to making a statement. I've been watching from the sidelines and I would like to say congrats to [organizers] Medalist and AEG for putting on the race. This is one of the fourth or fifth largest races in the world and hopefully it will one day be a Grand Tour."
Rock Racing recently ended a weeklong training camp held on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The twenty-six riders from both the UCI Continental team and the amateur team met for the first time this season. "I'm really excited to be for both myself and my team," Hamilton said. "It was a great training camp and all the new riders fit in really well, just like part of a family. We have a lot of experienced riders and a lot of young talent. Riders that I think will develop into winning stages and possibly the overall here at the Tour of California, in the future."
Hamilton applauded Lance Armstrong's return to the peloton. The two American riders are former teammates and competed against one another in the 2003 Tour de France. Armstrong won his fourth Tour title and Hamilton placed fourth with a broken collarbone. "I think its great that Lance is back, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that it has already brought so much excitement to the sport," he said regarding the decline in sponsorship due to the economic hardships.
"We are going through a rough patch. I think a lot of sponsors were scratching their heads as to whether or not they want to continue to support our sport. To have Lance Armstrong come back and generate all this excitement is great. He has shown that he is fit and ready to go, so we're expecting great things. He is an amazing talent and we are fortunate to have him back."