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Dog breath: Titanic Tyler

“Thanks for riding.” – the subject line of an e-mail sent to Tyler Hamilton, who closes his VeloNews diaries with “Thanks for reading,” after the CSC rider started stage 2 of the 2003 Tour with a broken collarbone Athletes are not always sportsmen, a term Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines as “a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, courtesy, etc.” Indeed, the sports page is starting to look less like a chronicle of inspirational achievement and more like a police blotter. Los

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By Patrick O’Grady

“Thanks for riding.” – the subject line of an e-mail sent to Tyler Hamilton, who closes his VeloNews diaries with “Thanks for reading,” after the CSC rider started stage 2 of the 2003 Tour with a broken collarbone

Athletes are not always sportsmen, a term Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines as “a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, or victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, courtesy, etc.”

Indeed, the sports page is starting to look less like a chronicle of inspirational achievement and more like a police blotter. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant surrenders on sex-assault charge. Orlando Magic’s Darrell Armstrong charged with battery on a female police officer. Denver Bronco tight end Dwayne Carswell arrested after picking his girlfriend up by the neck outside a bar.

Cycling is not exempt. Our sport suffers from dopers and liars like Raimondas Rumsas, strident whiners like David Millar, and punch-drunk loudmouths like Robbie McEwen. Great athletes? Maybe. Role models? Hardly.

And then there’s Tyler Hamilton.

This is a guy who could be singing the blues, big-time. Say, something along the lines of Booker T. Jones’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” (“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all…”). If a tenth of what’s happened to him in the past few years had happened to me, I’d be sniveling like a 4-year-old because my HMO wouldn’t pay for the past-life-regression therapy that might tell me who I’d been and what I’d done to suffer such punishment at the hands of the gods.

I mean, damn. Dude breaks bones, gets up, and keeps pedaling. And not on a training ride, which would be grim enough for your average cyclist, but in grand tours. Contrast that with Rumsas’s willingness to let his wife rot in a French hoosegow for smuggling his go-juice, Millar’s eagerness to blame everyone but himself for racing a cobbled prologue with a bum chain ring and no front derailleur, or McEwen’s perpetual and pugilistic insistence on being the biggest midget in the room.

It’s tough enough to share a planet with guys like this. Sharing a sport with them is intolerable.

Now, Tyler, he strikes me as a guy you could share a pizza and a pitcher of beer with. I’ve never met him, but you just can’t help liking a guy who never talks smack about the competition, praises his teammates for their hard work on his behalf, and plays the hand he’s been dealt instead of complaining that the game is rigged.

Tyler’s idea of pitching a bitch is saying something like, “”I don’t think the finish today was a very good finish for the start of a Tour de France.” This, mind you, after a face dab that cracked his collarbone in two places in the first stage of a three-week Tour in which he seemed like a good bet for a podium finish.

Plenty of other people were less generous in their descriptions of the narrow, twisting finish: Stupid, dangerous, ridiculous, and unprofessional were among the terms employed in the presence of the press, and I suspect a few earthier adjectives scorched the atmosphere once the notepads and tape recorders were packed away.

Tyler, he just says, “Here we go again,” triple-tapes his handlebars and shows up at the start line for stage 2.

He may not make the podium this year – although, considering he placed second in last year’s Giro with a broken shoulder, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. He may not even finish the Tour. “I can take a lot of pain, but you have to draw the line somewhere,” he said.

Here’s hoping that line is back in Paris, on the Champs-Elysées. No matter who finishes first, Tyler, you’re already a winner.