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A conversation with Tyler Hamilton

Tyler Hamilton is no longer in Lance Armstrong’s shadow. The 32-year-old CSC team captain has the Tour de France as his top goal for the season. And while he might not beat his former teammate, Hamilton has a legitimate shot at the podium. Hamilton made his season debut at Paris-Nice, his first race since the GP Eddy Merckx last August. Hamilton had a strong season debut, finishing second in the opening prologue, third in Thursday’s time trial and then won the King of the Mountains jersey. Here are excerpts from an interview with Hamilton conducted just after he finished his third-place

Gearing up for Tour with strong Paris-Nice debut

By Andrew Hood

Photo: Graham Watson

Tyler Hamilton is no longer in Lance Armstrong’s shadow. The 32-year-old CSC team captain has the Tour de France as his top goal for the season. And while he might not beat his former teammate, Hamilton has a legitimate shot at the podium.

Hamilton made his season debut at Paris-Nice, his first race since the GP Eddy Merckx last August. Hamilton had a strong season debut, finishing second in the opening prologue, third in Thursday’s time trial and then won the King of the Mountains jersey. Here are excerpts from an interview with Hamilton conducted just after he finished his third-place time trial performance on Thursday:

VeloNews: How did your ride go? It looked very windy out there.

Tyler Hamilton: It was a short time trial. I was going for it because I had a good prologue the other day. After the mountain stage when I lost a lot of time the other day, I was a little bit disappointed for myself and for the team, so I really wanted today to have a good time trial to make it up to the guys. (Hamilton ended up third behind winner Dario Frigo and ONCE’s Jorg Jaksche- Editor).

VN: So obviously you went 100 percent today?

TH: Yeah, I went hard from the start. I was just hanging on at the end. There was a lot of wind. At the halfway point, I was 10 seconds up and it was a good time split. I just kept fighting. It’s good for my confidence because it shows the hard work I was doing this winter is paying off. There was a tailwind going out but the last 6km, the head winds were brutal. I was just creeping along. Maybe I went a little too hard to start, but there’s nothing to lose. If I exploded, I exploded.

VN: Coming into this race, were you seriously thinking GC?

TH: It was a little bit unrealistic to not race for six months and then jump into the Paris-Nice. Out of all the races, the second hardest race in France. For a lot of guys this is their Tour de France. At the prologue, I felt good so we thought, why not, let’s try? There wasn’t that much pressure, if it works out, OK, if not, OK. The focus is really the Tour.

VN: You must be excited about going to the Tour de France as a legitimate contender?

TH: Yes, I’ve done the Tour six times, but I’ve never focused on the overall GC 100 percent. You gotta do it sometime. It would be crazy to look back on my career and never have given it a go. Last year was the first year I really had free reign, but I had already burned a lot of my matches in the Giro and I was still recovering from my injuries.

VN: Finishing second at the Giro was an amazing achievement, only two other Americans have done it.

TH: I wouldn’t have traded that Giro for anything. If it wasn’t for a little bit of bad luck, I might have won. It’s easily one of my greatest memories of cycling. It was a good confidence builder for the team and for me.

VN: What’s your racing schedule look like from here?

TH: I’ll do GP Miguel Indurain, Pais Basco, Primavera, Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Romandie.

VN: After that, what?

TH: I don’t know yet, we haven’t made the program yet.

VN: What was your reaction to the bad news about Kivilev?

TH: It’s something that you cannot put into words. It’s just very, very sad for his wife, baby. It puts everything into perspective. It was just a sad, sad day. I think it was nice what we did, ride in a group in memory of Kivilev.

VN: Did you know him very well?

TH: I didn’t know him very well at all. I knew him from inside the peloton, we’d say hello here and there. The last communication I had with him was at the sign-in on the day he crashed. There were a ton of bikes and his bike was lying against the fence and I saw him coming down and I handed him his bike. We made eye contact and said hello. That was my last time I spoke to him.

VN: Were you anywhere near the crash?

TH: Yeah, I was about three bike lengths behind him. I slammed my brakes and veered off to the right. If I had kept going in the same direction I would have gone straight into the crash.

VN: Any idea what happened?

TH: You’d have to ask the guys at Cofidis. I think it was a tangle-up. There was the lead-up to the base of the climb and everyone was jostling for position. It was nervous. We just came off a hard descent. It could have been anybody.

VN: It seemed like one of those crashes that happen all the time, but there’s always that danger.

TH: To be honest, I saw the crash real quick, veered to right and didn’t think that much of it. It wasn’t a super, high-speed crash, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.

VN: What’s your opinion on the debate about mandatory use of helmets? You pretty much always where a helmet, don’t you?

TH: I take it off for mountaintop finishes or if it’s real hot, you might take it off before the finish. The best thing would be to make it a rule: you have to wear your helmet, then it’s not even an option. I’ll admit, when you take it off, it feels good and you can cool off easier on a hot summer’s day.

VN: Even with the lightweight, ventilated helmets?

TH: It’s hard not to beat not having a helmet on. If they make it a rule, it’s not an option and you don’t feel like you’re at a disadvantage.

VN: When these things happen, like what happened to Kivilev, do you ever reconsider your professional as a bike racer?

TH: Yeah, a little bit. We’re all taking risks riding in the peloton, but you cannot live in fear and you have to keep doing what you’re doing. It was bad luck for him and his team. Hopefully, it won’t happen again.