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Oleg Tinkov: 'I think we're finished with him'
By Andrew Hood
Tyler Hamilton’s status with Tinkoff Credit Systems appears doubtful in the wake of his departure from the team just days before the start of the90th Giro d’Italia.
Tinkoff folded to pressure from Giro organizers over Hamilton’s alleged links to the Opera?ion Puerto doping scandal and dropped him from what would have been Hamilton’s first grand tour since he tested positive for homologous blood doping in the 2004 Vuelta a España.
Now team owner Oleg Tinkov is saying Hamilton’s departure could very well become permanent.
“I think we’re finished with him,” Tinkov told VeloNews before the start of Thursday’s fifth stage. “I wouldn’t like to see him at the races anymore. My idea is not to have him on the team anymore and forget about him and all of his doping scandals.”
Tinkov’s remarks came after days of uncertainty of Hamilton’s status with the team.
Both he and German rider Jörg Jaksche were kicked off the team’s nine-man Giro lineup following a revival in interest in the Puerto investigation in the wake of admissions by last year’s winner Ivan Basso that he was involved in the doping conspiracy.
Tinkov confirmed to VeloNews that Hamilton is indefinitely suspended until his Puerto status is clarified. Both Hamilton and Jaksche were named in police documents rounded up in raids last May of apartments owned by alleged Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes.
“He’s suspended now,” Tinkov continued. “The situation is so complex, with the media, the police. We just want to support these young beautiful Russian guys. We don’t have to have those negative stories anymore.”
Tinkov’s posture is a sharp contrast from team statements just a week ago, when Tinkoff management insisted the Puerto pair would race the season’s first grand tour.
Both Hamilton and Jaksche traveled to Sardinia ahead of Saturday’s team time trial start to undergo fitness tests to confirm what were likely to be spots on the nine-man roster. Hamilton had set the Giro as his top goal for the 2007 season and scouted all the key stages in the Dolomites in what he expected to be his comeback grand tour.
But growing pressure from the media and race organizers became too much for the upstart continental team. Other teams, such as Caisse d’Epargne had left off Puerto-implicated riders from its roster.
“If Tyler and Jörg were to start the Giro, we would be the only team with Puerto riders in the Giro,” team manager Omar Piscina told VeloNews.“It was a difficult decision to make. We waited for something from the UCI, but nothing came. I think under normal conditions, Tyler could have made a good Giro, but it’s a complicated situation.”
Piscina expressed his frustration about the lack of clarity from the UCI concerning the status of riders implicated in the Puerto scandal. Riders such as Hamilton and Jaksche face no legal charges and they have licenses to compete, yet live under a shadow of doubt that continues to plague the sport.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, meanwhile, has taken no formal action since it received documents from Spanish authorities forwarded by the UCI last fall. Hamilton has strongly denied working with Fuentes.
Hamilton joined Tinkoff Credit Systems last fall and returned to competition this winter in Europe. The 36-year-old suffered some bad luck with some crashes in the spring that left him with an abscessed tooth that required emergency treatment following the Tour de Georgia.
“Right now I feel like I’m kind of in limbo land,” Hamilton wrote on his personal web page.“Although I’ve worked hard to return to this sport, it feels strange to not know what’s next. But like every day of the last nearly three years, I’m taking it one step at a time.”That state of limbo extended to the Tinkoff team’s webpage. Much like the revisionism of the old Soviet era, references to Hamilton disappeared from the Tinkoff site earlier this week.