By Hedwig Kröner
After serving a suspension of two years, American Tyler Hamilton has made his comeback in the pro ranks at the GP d'Ouverture de la Marseillaise in the south of France on Tuesday this week, and is currently racing the Etoile de Bessèges stage race in that same region.
Speaking to French newspapers Le Monde and L'Equipe, the Athens Olympic Champion revealed his first goals for this new season: Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro d'Italia. "I want to be operational at the Giro," he said. "I prepared for this race to come back at the highest level. Even though I'm already 35, I know I can still win races and I think I still have the rhythm even after two years of absence."
Hamilton also honoured the confidence placed in him by his new team Tinkoff. "I want to give my experience to this team, which offered me the chance to race again," he explained. "Now, I want to prove I'm still a rider."
Oleg Tinkov, the squad's manager, also thought that Hamilton "earned a second chance. He paid for what he did and now he has the right to reintegrate society."
Looking back on the two years he spent without a team, while still training and racing at events open to non-licensed riders, the American even has plans to write a book. "People only know a tenth of what happened to me," he said. "The press destroyed me. Without my wife Haven I would never had the strength to come back."
But even if Hamilton sat out his ban for blood transfusion, he was recently associated with yet another doping affair: the name of his wife Haven allegedly appeared on a fax transmitted by Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor accused of performance-enhancing practices in Spain. "That is completely false!," replied Hamilton when confronted with this information. "My lawyers asked for a copy of these documents, which actually never arrived. It has to be a really bad falsification. I was never under Eufemiano Fuentes' treatment."
While the former Phonak rider regretted not having asked his hearing to be made public ("I told Floyd not to make the same mistake"), he never lost the dream of racing again. "I always had the hope of coming back," he said. "I kept ready. Cycling has always been my passion, and now I can make a living of it again. My bank account is not what it used to be... I spent $500,000 on lawyers to defend myself. Do you think I would have done that if I wasn't innocent?"
Now, Hamilton is eager to show that he still has it in him. "I'll use the rage that built up inside of me to push the pedals even harder," he added. In Italy, he trains every day with a group of about 50 cyclists, which includes Luigi Cecchini, an Italian 'preparatore' who also advises Jan Ullrich. "Cecchini is my best friend before being my coach," Hamilton emphasized. "He never abandoned me, not even in the darkest hours. This experience has made me tougher."