Tyler Hamilton Q&A Part 1: The unfairness of a doped peloton
Tyler Hamilton stood on stage last week in Vail, a special guest at the 2018 Colorado Classic women’s race. It was the first time Hamilton had attended a professional cycling race since coming clean about his involvement in doping more than six years ago.
There was a time when Hamilton’s name was synonymous with cheating. A longtime member of Lance Armstrong’s United States Postal Service team, Hamilton famously tested positive for blood doping at the 2004 Olympics and was handed a two-year ban. He appealed the decision and lost. He returned to cycling in 2008 and won the U.S. national road title, among other races, only to receive another ban after testing positive for DHEA, which he claimed was in an herbal remedy.
In the years following that ban, Hamilton became a rare voice of transparency as cycling grappled with its PED problems. In 2012 Hamilton co-wrote the book “The Secret Race,” which has become the de facto Bible for understanding cycling’s doping culture of the late 1990s and mid-2000s. In his book, Hamilton discusses, at length, his use of PEDs, and explains how each substance — from EPO to testosterone — impacted his body.
Hamilton retreated from the public eye following his second doping infraction, moving to Missoula, Montana. These days, he manages his own coaching company and regularly speaks about his experiences with pro cycling and doping.
Hamilton said he felt a wide range of emotions at the Colorado race, speaking with many people he had not seen since the publishing of his book. After spending time with Hamilton in Colorado, VeloNews caught up with Hamilton over the phone.
VeloNews: Are you comfortable being back [at races] now?
Tyler Hamilton: I’m definitely not back at the races. Let’s be honest, it was one race, but for sure it was nice to see some old faces. At the end of the day, it’s about being comfortable in your own skin. I stepped away for quite a while, justifiably so. I needed a break but I think people needed a break from me too. Writing that book was a lot of information coming out in a short amount of time. It was a lot for people to handle. I have friends now that hated me when that first came out, when I did “60 Minutes.” People hated me and were so pissed at me, but over time you realize it was such an ugly chapter.
VN: Had you chosen not to write your book, we would probably still be in the dark about a lot of things. Do you regret any of it or are you happy you wrote it?
TH: It’s still hard to believe everything that is in there, but it’s all the truth. I wish it wasn’t but I am happy that I wrote it, super relieved, but there were consequences. I get there are people that I mentioned in the book that probably don’t like me very much. For example, Kevin Livingston. I saw him for the first time there at the Colorado Classic. He came up with a smile on his face and shook my hand. I didn’t know if he was going to spit in my face. I knew he wouldn’t do that but it was super cool. I didn’t get a chance to tell Kevin what I wanted, I felt bad including him [in the book] but unfortunately, he was part of the truth. We hadn’t been able to talk during the case but it was nice to see him and it was nice to know that he’s somewhat okay with me.
That was one of the things going to Colorado, I didn’t know what that was going to be like. I spoke with [USA Cycling president and CEO] Derek Bouchard-Hall and it was good. He’s doing a good job. I know he’s a super strong anti-doping advocate and I support that. I’m sure they [USA Cycling] weren’t my No. 1 fan, but it was good. I saw a lot of people. Time heals a lot of this and sometimes even if you have to fake it for a second, you smile, you shake their hand and then it’s all done, it’s behind us and we’ve moved on.
VN: It’s been several months since Lance Armstrong settled his lawsuit with the U.S. government. What were your feelings when you learned it would not be heading to trial?
TH: It’s something important to talk about. I would have liked it to have gone to trial, for the sake of getting to hear all of these people’s stories. There are plenty of secrets that haven’t come out versus what has, and now it’s looking less likely that they will ever be told. I am not against anybody or for anybody, but just to hear more of the truth. All of these people were under subpoena so it would have been interesting. But I’ve accepted it. That’s life and we have to move forward. It’s sad. After I found out, I used the time to ride my bike along the west coast of Ireland; I was doing a talk over there. In a way, it’s a massive chapter behind us. Where that leaves us today? I don’t know exactly. I don’t have the answers for all of it, for sure.
Even though it’s closed, I will continue to share my story. Where I think things went wrong with me, where I made poor judgment early on, looking back on the map I chose to follow. For myself, I can do a lot of good but I can’t control with the court system does.
VN: Going back, there has been a growing sentiment that the field of play during your era was somehow level. The argument is that all of the riders had access to the same PEDs, so things were equal. What are your thoughts around this sentiment?
TH: That’s not true. I can only speak for the WorldTour level, the Tour de France level where I was at, I can’t speak for the domestic teams. Doping was prevalent but it wasn’t all EPO. The GC guys were getting blood bags, and had better doctors, and more information, worked with stronger “trainers” as they called them or doctors. So that was an advantage for sure. Things were not equal.
We will never really know, so all the results are skewed. They can hit the delete button with all mine and I’ll be okay with it. Say you took EPO for a year, 10 years later, you’re still strong because of that one year. You were able to train harder, longer, all of that and you have a bigger base, if you really break it down and want to be ethical about it. It’s impossible to say or to prove because we really don’t know the whole truth. For the ones that are still holding on, it does feel good to be honest and truthful. People appreciate the truth, and they appreciate honesty.
I wouldn’t want to live with those secrets anymore. We know some guys still are, but I also understand their side too because I lied for a long time. So, although it frustrates me once and a while, I can’t really judge. They’re in the process. I know for me, it helped me a lot. I don’t know where I would be today had I not told the truth. It was killing me from the inside out.
VN: You do speaking engagements around the world about your story. When you read about the controversies surrounding Team Sky, or the doping cases last year that came out of Latin America, are you discouraged that it’s a fruitless endeavor or motivated to do more about it?
TH: It’s discouraging, you don’t want to see everything that our generation went through, that all that was for nothing. All the pain and suffering, because there was a lot of it. It’s been tough for everybody. Regardless if you doped or not, regardless which side of the tracks you were on, it’s been hard. At the end of the day, I don’t think anybody really wanted to dope. But to see stuff still going on, it’s sad but obviously it’s the truth. It was everywhere back then. You can’t just change that completely overnight. It didn’t and it hasn’t and so we have to continue to fight, supporting USADA, supporting WADA, supporting clean athletes.
Doing all these talks, afterwards people will come up and tell me some crazy stories or stuff that they know. I’ve heard it all in pretty much every major sport, even ones that you would never think about. For sure it’s not a problem exclusive to cycling. We have to make the tests better, there are loops holes for a lot of different drugs. If we knew there was a foolproof test out there for all the sports, and they could detect anything, wouldn’t that be great? It would take the pressure off the athlete. It wouldn’t even be an option, they wouldn’t have to stress about thinking about it because it’s completely off the line. Just make it impossible, wouldn’t that be beautiful? I don’t think any athlete wants to grow up and dope. It’s not only the physical cost on the athlete, but look at the mental cost.
Note: VeloNews contributor Rebecca Reza worked as a social media advisor to Tyler Hamilton’s coaching business in 2017. Reza and VeloNews editor Fred Dreier compiled the list of questions prior to this interview with Hamilton.