On skis or on a bike, Tyler rocks | VailDaily.com

On skis or on a bike, Tyler rocks

Veronica Whitney
Preston Utley/Vail DailyProfessional cyclist Tyler Hamilton rides his bike Sunday in Minturn.

VAIL – He skis fast, carving like an experienced racer. His balance and self-confidence on skis is similar to what he does on a bicycle saddle.It’s suddenly confusing. Is that Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton on skis? The 33-year-old professional cyclist enjoys speed on the road and on the slopes on Vail Mountain.”I miss skiing,” said Hamilton, who was in Vail Saturday to participate in the Vertical Express for MS, organized by The Heuga Center. “I’ll ski a lot once my career is over.”But these days, Hamilton, who grew up ski racing, is concentrating on this year’s races and what lies ahead of him, including his eighth Tour de France and dealing with an alleged anti-doping violation.”My number one goal is competing in the Tour de France again,” he said. “I want to win. Winning the gold medal gave me more confidence.”Switching sportsWhile growing up in Marblehead, Mass., Hamilton skied on Wildcat and Cannon mountains in New Hampshire.”I was a weekend warrior,” said Hamilton, who started ski racing when he was 7. He was on ski racing teams in high school and at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Until he broke his back training when he was a sophomore.”I was in bed for two months, and then they didn’t allow me to ski that season, so I started cycling,” he said. “I picked up the bike in January and started riding. Then I started racing for the college team. “I never picked the skis up again,” said Hamilton, who now skis about five days a season.

Racer’s life For several years, Hamilton, was part of the U.S. Postal Service bike team led by six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.But in 2002, Hamilton became part of a Danish team, CSC. By the end of the 2003 season, and after finishing fourth at the Tour de France – with a broken collarbone – Hamilton got a contract to ride for Phonak, a Swiss team. “When I was (with the U.S. Postal Service team) I was the backup quarterback, and I wanted to be the starting quarterback,” he said. “Lance was obviously the starting quarterback. I’ve been the backup for many years. Enjoyed it, I learned a lot, but I felt it was time to spread my wings.”Though he declined to say how much money he makes as a professional cyclist, Hamilton said he makes a comfortable living.”I have two homes here in Colorado, one in Boulder and another one in Nederland, and one in Spain,” he said. “But I can’t tell you how hard I work for this job. I don’t get weekends or a vacation.Hamilton, who spends nine months of the year in Girona, Spain, trains every month but October. “I’m in Europe because the top tier – the NBA of cycling – is there,” he said.”Most people race 100 to 120 days a year,” he added. “A lot of people don’t realize. They think it’s the Tour de France, but 100 days is a lot.”Last year, Hamilton had to quit the Tour because he injured his back. While he was struggling with his injury and the race, Tagboat, his dog, died of cancer.”It was very hard. We were very close,” Hamilton said.”I could have continued, but you have to weigh your options,” he added. “I looked at the big picture and I thought, how I could recover. Stopping was the best bet, because by the time the Tour was over, I was recovered and fresh. I stopped so I could win a gold medal, and that’s what I did.” In August, Hamilton became the Olympic time-trial champion in the Olympic Games in Athens.To, Joe Tonon, a former professional cyclist from Marblehead, who now works with Hamilton in his foundation, there are very few people like Hamilton, who can dream of winning the Tour de France.

“I tried to head where he’s heading,” said Tonon, who years ago was part of team from Italy, and who also participated in the Vertical Express for MS. “Some of us succeed, some fail. When I moved to Europe, I found out how difficult this sport is. I don’t think most people can comprehend what a difficult lifestyle (Hamilton) has to live in order to attain the level he is at.”Determination, focus and having a high pain threshold is what it takes to become a champion, Hamilton said.”You’re using yourself to the limit and above that limit,” he said.Blood doping controversyBefore he heads back to Spain in March, Hamilton will face a Feb. 28 four-day hearing in Denver before the U.S. Anti-Doping Association. Hamilton, who is suspended from his team until the investigation is finished, faces a possible two-year ban after testing positive in the first sample for an alleged illicit blood transfusion following his win on the Tour of Spain’s eighth stage time trial earlier in September. Previously, Hamilton was cleared of committing a doping offense at the Olympic Games.Blood doping is a means of enhancing an athlete’s endurance by increasing the amount of oxygen-carrying red cells in the blood stream, using his own blood or a donor of the same group. “The only time I heard of blood transfusion was if you were in a bad accident or if you had surgery,” Hamilton said. Hamilton denied the blood doping allegations.”For one, it’s illegal. And two, you can risk your life, you’re taking blood from another person, there can be diseases,” Hamilton said.”I’m very confident. We’re assuming everything will go out,” he added. “I’ll know my destiny in the middle of March. At that point, I’ll be back on the same team. We have a very good relation with them.When asked how could the blood test come back positive for doping, Hamilton responded:

“Well that’s a good question. This is a brand new test and that’s what we are trying to find out. There’s been a lot of bad testing procedures.”I’m not thinking about life without cycling because I know it’s not going to happen,” Hamilton said. “The press quotes people who are against me. This has tarnished my name and my image, but I made a point of not talking a whole lot about it. I’ve been waiting for the whole process to run its course and then I’ll talk. There’s plenty to talk about,” he added.What lies aheadIn the meantime, Hamilton is focusing on his training, he said.”I’ll be back racing by the end of March, and I’m looking forward to competing in the Tour de France again this year,” he added. “To win the Tour, you can have an off day but you can’t have a bad day. Lance hasn’t had a bad day in six years. He’s got off days, but no bad days.”While he’s preparing for his hearing and for his races in Europe, Hamilton said he is enjoying his Olympic gold medal.”I’ve watched the Olympic Games since I was a kid, and it was pretty special,” he said. “I grew up watching Phil and Steve Mahre win gold in Sarajevo and, the U.S. hockey team win in Lake Placid in 1980, so for me the Olympics was the biggest sporting event in the world when I grew up. There’s something special in representing your country.”To have a gold medal is a great feeling,” he added. “Every day I look at it and it puts a smile on my face. But I definitely like to win the Tour.”Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado

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