Late Monday, April 18 the US Anti-Doping Agency handed down its decision in the Tyler Hamilton case. The majority of the three-man arbitration panel found that Hamilton had used banned homologous blood-doping methods in the Vuelta a Espana last year, and Hamilton now faces a two-year ban. Combined with the ProTour ethical code regulation that teams should not hire riders found guilty of doping offences for a further two years after their bans, that almost certainly means the end of the 34-year-old's career. Jeff Jones takes a look at the arguments Hamilton himself put forward in his defence.
Although Tyler Hamilton has been relatively quiet about his hearing up until now, his latest diary entry on his website, www.tylerhamilton.com, goes into some detail about the happenings of the last few months. He started by writing about the anomalous blood values measured by the UCI in the spring: Hamilton was warned several times by the UCI for having a high Stimulation Index (SI) or "off score", which is calculated from the rider's plasma haemoglobin and reticulocyte (immature red blood cells) levels.
The average SI score for professional cyclists is 90. At Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year, Hamilton scored 123.8. It was up to 132.9 the next week by the Tour de Romandie, and with it came a hematocrit level of 49.7% (the UCI's nominal limit is 50%) and a reticulocyte index of 0.22 (which is below normal limits).
"Health tests administered on my blood at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour of Romandie and Dauphine Libéré registered uncharacteristically low reticulocyte counts, which is the count of new red blood cells," Hamilton wrote. "Medical expert Jim Stray-Gundersen, who has conducted more than 10,000 blood tests on athletes participating in doping research programs, testified during my hearing that my reticulocyte counts from these three races were so low they 'are not to be believed'. Of the thousands he's evaluated in his career, he has only seen one test come up as low as mine - and it was an instance when he knew for a fact, the sample had been 'mishandled' during transport to the lab."
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