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No world’s or ProTour return expected for Hamilton

Tyler Hamilton’s bid to return to racing this fall appears to be riddled with roadblocks, with both his hopes of competing in the world championships next month and his desire to sign with a ProTour team seemingly doomed. According to officials at USA Cycling, the 35-year-old will not be allowed to compete as a member of the nine-man U.S. national team at the Salzburg world road cycling championships next month, just two days after his two-year racing ban ends. “Tyler has not met any of the automatic selection criteria for worlds and, per the selection procedures, he did not petition for a

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Little or no chance former star will return to the top of the sport any time soon

By Andrew Hood

Most suggest Hamilton's only real option is to race in the U.S. for the duration of his career.

Most suggest Hamilton’s only real option is to race in the U.S. for the duration of his career.

Photo: PhotoSport International (file photo)

Tyler Hamilton’s bid to return to racing this fall appears to be riddled with roadblocks, with both his hopes of competing in the world championships next month and his desire to sign with a ProTour team seemingly doomed.

According to officials at USA Cycling, the 35-year-old will not be allowed to compete as a member of the nine-man U.S. national team at the Salzburg world road cycling championships next month, just two days after his two-year racing ban ends.

“Tyler has not met any of the automatic selection criteria for worlds and, per the selection procedures, he did not petition for a spot on the world championship team,” USA Cycling COO Sean Petty wrote in an e-mail to VeloNews. “The petition deadline was Aug. 11. So, he will not be a member of the U.S. world championship team.”

Hamilton is serving out the final days of his racing ban for homologous blood doping in what’s been one of the most controversial and divisive doping scandals in U.S. cycling history.

The ex-Phonak rider was busted at the 2004 Vuelta a España after blood tests showed evidence of blood doping. He was allowed to keep his Olympic gold medal after a second “B” test was mishandled and rendered unsuitable for counter-analysis.

Hamilton denies allegations he injected another person’s blood into his body and mounted an expensive legal defense and sophisticated public relations campaign in a vain effort to have the ban overturned.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in February to uphold a two-year ban imposed by USADA, which voted 2-1 to sideline the former Lance Armstrong lieutenant. The ban ends Sept. 22, just one day after the world time trial race and two days before the men’s road race.

With the door to the U.S. national team already closed, it’s also looking unlikely he will be able to return to the 20-team ProTour league as he hopes this fall or next season.

Sources at the UCI recently confirmed to VeloNews that Hamilton will not be allowed to race for a ProTour team for another two years, essentially blocking his return to cycling’s biggest races until the fall of 2008. Despite his doping violation dating to Sept. 2004, sources said Hamilton’s lengthy and controversial appeal – which stretched into 2006 – triggers strict anti-doping rules that are part of the ProTour Ethics code introduced in Jan. 2005.

When the ProTour was created last year, the Ethics Code mandated outright two-year competition bans for first-time offenders and an additional two-year penalty before being allowed to return to a major ProTour team, a rule that essentially doubles first-time bans. A second doping offense results in a lifetime ban from the sport.

Hamilton’s case differs from confessed doper David Millar – who also served a two-year ban after admitting in 2004 he took EPO – because he didn’t make any sort of an appeal and returned to racing in late June in time to start both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España.

In another twist, most of Europe’s continental teams – the second-tier squads that live on the chance to get invited to the bigger, more important races on the European schedule – have been forced to abide by the new ProTour rules.

“All the major continental teams have signed the Ethics Code as well, because otherwise they won’t be allowed to get invited to the ProTour events or have a chance to be asked to race the Tour,” an official from a major team told VeloNews. “I don’t know who Hamilton will be able to sign with. It will be interesting to see if someone tries to sign him. He might have to race for an American team.”

Recent allegations linking Hamilton to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes have only complicated matters.

Hamilton has vigorously denied working with Fuentes, who is at the center of an alleged doping ring, but Spanish authorities contend they found several documents showing that Hamilton was one of Fuentes’ best customers from 2002-04.

UCI president Pat McQuaid has threatened Hamilton with a lifetimeban if evidence clearly demonstrates a link to Fuentes’ alleged doping ring. McQuaid said the UCI has still not reviewed documents sent from Spain’s Guardia Civil.

Despite the uncertainty of Hamilton’s ProTour status, one source close to a prominent ProTour team confirmed a report on Hamilton’s web page that there were in negotiations with the troubled American. They backed down, however, once reports linking Hamilton to Fuentes came to light.

Throughout his legal fight, Hamilton has doggedly continued training and has stayed in top shape (even occasionally racing – when allowed) with the expectation that he could return to racing.

In a recent posting on his his personal web site, Hamilton expressed his growing frustration and determination to return to competition.

“I know how it feels to work so hard but feel like you are getting nowhere. I have experienced the incredible happiness of achieving lifetime goals and the sadness of having my accomplishments questioned and opportunities taken away,” Hamilton wrote. “But at the end of the day that sadness is a motivator, because it can’t help but become anger. People used to always tell me I was too “nice” to really succeed at racing and some would even ask me, “are you angry enough to win?” Well, if I wasn’t before, I certainly am now.”From the looks of it, he might have to channel that growing anger away from Europe’s biggest races for another two years.


Related Articles
Hamilton blood tests show ‘inconsistencies’ – September 20, 2004
Olympic case dropped against Hamilton – September 23, 2004
The Hamilton Case: A doctor explains blood doping – September 28, 2004
Greek officials investigate Hamilton case – December 20, 2004
Hamilton awaits arbitration decision – March 13, 2005
Hamilton draws two-year suspension – April 18, 2005
CAS rejects Hamilton Appeal – February 11, 2006