By Shane Stokes
Yesterday was two years to the day when Tyler Hamilton pulled off a determined long range break and soloed to his first Tour stage win in Bayonne. This time round, he's consigned to watching the Tour on TV due to the two year suspension he copped for testing positive for a homologous blood transfusion during the 2004 Vuelta a España.
Hamilton's ban was announced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on April 19th of this year, after the independent arbitration panel of the American Arbitration Association (AAA)/North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) found him guilty of blood doping. Hamilton appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. Their decision represents his last chance of a reprieve.
Cyclingnews contacted Hamilton for an update on the case. "We filed my appeal with CAS on May 27," he said yesterday. "The rules provide up to four months to schedule a hearing and hand down an opinion. So that would mean my case should be resolved by no later than September 27."
When asked what has happened since that first ruling, the 34 year old says that they have continued to gather information to support their case. "We have continued to speak with various medical and research experts to determine more specifically how the test itself and the test results are flawed," he sates. "It's an ongoing process that will have spanned nearly a year by the time my appeal is heard. So, the more time that passes, the more people we speak to, the more we learn about flaws with the test and issues surrounding my results."
"Our case before CAS will present some of the same issues as before, and some new issues. We felt very strongly that we presented a solid case the first time around, which was heard on an expedited basis. We are hopeful that the CAS appeal panel will be open and receptive to our arguments."
Hamilton is currently in limbo, unsure as to whether or not he will race again. Like any athlete in his situation, he'll be trying to remain optimistic, but CAS will have the final say on his innocence or guilt. For much of his career his focus has been on being in peak form for the Tour de France, so it's a big change to be watching it on television instead.
"It was hard to see the first stage kicking off," he agrees. "But I have a lot of friends in the race and certainly, I want to see Phonak do well. I have turned on the race every morning to watch the coverage. It's disappointing not being there, but at the end of the day, I'm still a huge cycling fan and the Tour de France is the biggest race of the year. So naturally, I'm interested in it. Although I have to admit, I didn't realize how stressful it is to watch the race."
"My heart went out to Dave Zabriskie during the team time trial. But he had an amazing start for his first Tour, and I was really happy to see him do so well. I think Floyd is doing a great job being a rookie team leader. I'm keeping close tabs on all the Phonak riders and have been happy to see them playing an active role in most of the stages so far. This being George Hincapie's 10th Tour, it was good to see him earn his first stage win as well. He has sacrificed a lot over the years for Lance and it was nice to see him achieve such a great result. And obviously I was happy for Pereiro. He worked hard for his stage victory. He covered a lot of moves throughout the race. He's been really impressive."
If Hamilton is successful in his appeal, he thinks that he will be back to a decent fitness level relatively quickly. Indeed, he would hope to get some racing in this year. "I haven't missed a day of training since this whole mess started," he says. "I've been out on the bike every day since November 1st of last year. So I have a great base. I was in Europe last month doing a few aerodynamic tests at SRM in Germany and with my trainer in Italy to gauge where my fitness is. I was happy to see I'm pretty fit, despite the lack of racing."
"Without a firm hearing date, it's difficult to estimate what a potential return date to racing could be. But certainly I would like to get some racing in my legs before the end of the season."