By Andrew Hood
All the studying is over. Tyler Hamilton is ready for his final exam.
Hamilton heads to the Netherlands on Wednesday to begin the three-week journey that he hopes will end June 2 on the final podium in Milan.
Hamilton, 31, goes into the Giro d’Italia with big ambitions and even bigger pressure. He left U.S. Postal Service last year after signing a lucrative two-year deal to lead CSC-Tiscali as the team’s top GC rider. Just this week, top CSC brass were quoted in Danish newspapers, expressing sponsor frustration over the lack of headline-grabbing results so far this year.
Worse for Hamilton, he’s been dogged by allergies all spring, which have significantly reduced his racing schedule. He was forced to pull out of Setmana Catalana in March and just last week he opted not to start the Tour of Romandie after allergic reactions to pollen clogged his chest yet again. Hamilton starts the Giro with 18 days of racing in his legs, nearly half of his top Italian rivals.
But Hamilton says bring it on. He’s thrilled about the biggest moment of his career and ready to show his best efforts as he leads a team in a major three-week stage race for the first time. VeloNews’ Andrew Hood talked with Hamilton on Monday evening to gauge his thoughts before his departure.
VeloNews: Recount why you didn’t start at Romandie.
Tyler Hamilton: “I’ve been suffering from allergies all spring. It got really bad. I was doing some training in Italy after Liege and it got worse. I was so congested. It was in my lungs. I was having a lot of problems breathing. We didn’t want to take a chance with the weather. In nasty weather it can easily get a lot worse. It can get infected and turn into bronchitis. Looking back at the Romandie, I think it was a good call. The biggest concern is missing racing.”
VN: How many days will you have going into the Giro? TH: “I have 18 days of racing in my legs. At the start line, I’ll be one of the guys with the least amount of racing. It’s difficult to say exactly where my fitness is. It’s hard to tell when you’re not racing.”
VN: How many racing days did you expect to have? TH: “I’d like to have around 25 to 30 days in my legs. I’ve compensated pretty well. I’ve trained extremely hard. Considering the circumstances, I’m at a decent level right now. It’s a three-week race. I feel I can ride into the race.”
VN: How long have you had these problems with allergies? TH: “It wasn’t until I moved to Spain in 1997 that I started to feel it. It’s not the same every year, it’s always changing. Some years it’s real bad. It depends on a lot of factors. I know in the off-season, I’m going to spend a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of it. I’ve done a lot of testing. It’s something I really need to buckle down and get to the bottom of. It really can mess up my plans.”
VN: How does it affect you? TH: “It starts in your head and it can get really bad into your lungs. It’s just like a cold. You know how it is, trying to race your bike when you have that in your lungs.”
VN: So you’re feeling better now?” TH: “I still feel it a little bit. I have some prescribed medication and that seems to be helping. The allergy season is in full bloom. I think it’s all around Europe, some places are a little worse. There are times in central Italy when there is so much pollen in the air it looks like it is snowing.”
VN: Where have you been training? TH: “We went into Dolomites and looked at stages 16-17. The weather was a lot better up there. It was more like winter, a lot colder. I spent a little time back in Girona, then we went to look at the first stage in Italy, stage 5. I’ve been training as hard as I possibly can; going as hard as I can to simulate racing speeds. I’ve been doing a lot of motor pacing.”
VN: What will your mind-set be at the Giro start? TH: “I’m excited. I feel good. The one concern is the lack of racing, but you can’t worry about it when you get surprises like this. You just need to kind go with the flow and change your training around. I’m confident.”
VN: So you must be psyched about the Giro? TH: “I’ve been busy doing my homework, training hard, previewing the stages. Now the homework is done, now it’s time to take the final exam.”