BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — The first day I met Tad Hamilton, he was enthusiastically flipping off Jonathan Vaughters — two handed, no less — and hollering obscenities out the window of his team car at the Garmin-Sharp crew, due to a perceived slight of one of his riders during the Amgen Tour of California. This also marked my first day in a team car, ever. These things, they happen.
I asked if he and Vaughters might work that out later, and bury the hatchet. After half a second, he looked at me, and said, “I don’t hold grudges.” I laughed.
That was Hamilton in his director role at Exergy: open, and to the point. Hamilton has since gone from a sport director and manager to running a printing press in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, a trade of his. He walked away from the crumbling team right after he finished up at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado in late August.
“It’s tough, man. It’s hard to build that and for it to go away. But at the same time, it was a pretty fun ride,” he said.
Hamilton is the only director the men’s Exergy team ever had. In 2009, he put the pieces together to form the American cycling team that’s since evaporated after the Idaho-based energy company walked away from its sponsorship publicly just days ago, citing the dark climate of the sport. On Wednesday, Louisville 2013 world championships organizers turned the tables on the firm, cutting ties and claiming Exergy was past due on $250,000 in sponsor payments.
“It’s funny how cycling is. Here’s a sponsor that I brought into the sport that has plenty of money to do a men’s team, but by the time they got into the races, and the women’s team and all this, and now the men’s team is gone,” Hamilton said. “Cycling in general — it’s hard on itself. It cannibalizes itself. I know that races need money, and teams need money. I mean, jeez, I brought a good sponsor to the sport, and we’re the one’s out.”
Hamilton, though, and some of the others wouldn’t have had a chance in pro cycling if not for Exergy. He came to sport late and raced as a Cat. 1 for a long time, lining up with the pros at races like the Tour of the Gila and Cascade Classic. By his own admission, he wouldn’t have had much of a shot managing a professional team without Exergy. So, while there’s sadness in the folding of the team, Hamilton’s cognizant of the opportunity CEO James Carkulis and company gave him.
“Just a small group of guys from Boise, Idaho, with small resumes, to do what we did — I feel blessed that I had that opportunity,” he said. “No one was going to give us that chance. It’s been a wonderful thing, for sure.”
He sings the praises of working a regular nine-to-five, of being finished with work when he walks out the door: “My son’s birthday is March 25. I’ve been at Redlands the last five years, right? I’ve missed half my son’s birthdays.”
All this “Average Joeness” may wear thin. Bike racing is one of those things that, once it’s inside, never really goes away.
“For the most part, guys are in it, I guess, because it’s such a challenge. Cycling, you know, obviously you’re competing against other teams, other racers. But it’s a progression you can chart against yourself,” Hamilton said. “You can’t buy what you get from the bike. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It matters how hard you work.”
Hamilton said he’s open to coming back to the bunch someday, and that he hopes the work he did was good enough for offers. He also worries about his former riders, who now have to find new jobs.
“I love those guys. It’s been difficult being out of the loop from them. I’d like to call them and talk to them and hear what’s going on, but it’s not my place to get in now. I’m friends will all my riders, and we’ll meet up down the road and talk about it. But this is business for them,” he said. “I can’t be there. I can get them through 10-day stage races, but I can’t get them through this. Everybody’s got to live their life.”