This story has been updated – September 21
By Andrew Hood
Tyler Hamilton is denying media reports of blood tampering that have been detected in two samples taken since he won the Olympic time trial gold medal last month.
The Vuelta a España was rocked overnight following reports that the UCI informed Phonak team doctor Iñaki Arratibel that blood samples taken Aug. 19 and Sept. 18 showed traces of mixed blood cells. Follow-up tests were scheduled for later Tuesday.
Phonak confirmed those reports, but said Hamilton has denied any wrong-doing. Phonak officials have scheduled a press conference at the team’s headquarters in Zurich on Tuesday afternoon.
“I received the news yesterday evening and I can’t say more except to tell you that I spoke with the rider and, knowing him as I do, I’m relatively calm,” Phonak sport director Alvaro Pino told MARCA radio. “He told me, ‘Be calm, because this will work out in my favor and I’m telling you that sincerely, because there’s absolutely nothing in this.’”
“I’m not the one who can explain everything that has happened,” Pino said Tuesday. “The team will give a full explanation later this afternoon in a press conference in Zurich with Tyler there as well. … I believe what Tyler told me and I believe that he’s smart enough not to risk taking a blood transfusion. The rule of the team is the same for any rider. If he is considered positive, he will be fired from the team.”
The Associated Press reported that team spokesman Georges Luedinger said Hamilton denied having a transfusion, which can boost an athlete’s performance by increasing the amount of oxygen-transporting red blood cells in their system.
“Tyler told us he did nothing,” said Luedinger, adding the UCI said the tests revealed “mixed red blood cell population, an indication of a homologous blood transfusion.”
The Vuelta has been using a new sophisticated blood screening machine that can detect blood transfusions, human growth hormones and synthetic hemoglobin which were previously undetectable. The apparatus was also used at the Tour de France and the Olympic Games in Athens.
The two tests came following Hamilton’s biggest successes of the 2004 season. The first came a day after winning the Olympic time trial gold medal, the first American male road race gold medal since 1984. The second test came on Sept. 18, just days after he won a Vuelta time trial to become the first American to win stages in all three grand tours. Hamilton did not start the 13th stage after complaining of stomach problems.
If Hamilton is eventually disqualified from the Olympics, gold would go to Russia’s Viatcheslav Ekimov, also the champion in Sydney four years ago, the silver to American Bobby Julich and the bronze to 2003 world champion Michael Rogers of Australia, who was crowned after the disqualification through doping of original winner David Millar of Britain.
For Phonak, it is the second doping affair to hit them during the year following the positive test for blood-boosting drug EPO by Switzerland’s Oscar Camenzind. Camenzind was axed by the team and he retired from the sport before being suspended by the Swiss Olympic committee for two years.
Hamilton could not be reached by VeloNews on Tuesday morning, but La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the American is already planning his legal defense against the allegations. Hamilton, 33, has never tested positive for banned substances or been disciplined by the UCI during his 10-year professional career.