Rock Racing team owner Michael Ball confirmed Friday that he has signed American Tyler Hamilton, adding that the upstart domestic road team might have “one or two more surprises” before the 2008 season begins.
“My intention is to build the best domestic team and then go from there,” Ball told VeloNews. “When a guy like Tyler is available, and we have a nice conversation and we are all on the same page, I’m willing to spend the money and bring him in. He’s a great talent and honestly, I am really proud to have him on the team — absolutely proud to have him on the team. I think he brings a lot to younger guys; he brings clout to the team and the brand. I think he’s a great guy.”
With the addition of three-time national champion Freddie Rodriguez, 2002 world time trial champion Santiago Botero and former U.S. Postal Service domestique Victor Hugo Peña, as well as domestic standouts Doug Ollerenshaw, Mike Creed and Cesar Grajales, Ball has quickly built a team that has shaped up to be one of the strongest on the North America scene.
“At this point it’s about the domestic world for us, to be the biggest and baddest and on any given Sunday go out and kick some ass,” Ball said. “I’d say there might be a couple of surprises in the near future, certainly before the Tour of California. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Hamilton returned to professional racing earlier this year after serving a two-year suspension for a homologous blood-doping positive at the 2004 Vuelta España, but found his career nontheless hampered after inking a deal with the Russian-owned Tinkoff Credit Systems team. Ball said that in his eyes, Hamilton had served his penalty and deserved another chance.
“What’s done is done,” Ball said. “The truth of the matter is that he was penalized; he did his time. He struggled through it. It is a drag, in terms of the situation the guys go through. But I’m here to support the riders. At the end of the day, I’m here to support the riders and give those individuals an opportunity.
“If you look at the team across the board, with bringing on the riders from last year, where a lot of people wouldn’t have given them a shot, or had kind of written them off, it’s similar, but we’re kind of taking it to another level. We’ve elevated it, but we’re still the underdog, we’re still the outcasts. We’re still the misfits, if you will.”
Perhaps the team will continue as the outcasts of the North American circuit, given its skull-and-wings logo and tattooed riders like Kayle Leogrande and David Clinger. But with its growing roster, it shall remain to be seen how long the team will be able to hold on to any underdog status.
“We’re still on the outside, if you know what I mean,” Ball said. “There’s always going to be questions. There are always going to be naysayers — and that’s a good thing. It’s good for sport, good for the [Rock Racing] brand, and I hope what we do in 2008, and what we can prove to the fans, is that we are here to stay.”