By Andrew Hood
Tyler Hamilton is expected to have his day in court in late February when the Olympic time trial champion is hoping to prove his innocence of allegations of blood doping or face a possible two-year racing ban.
According to a posting on the Tyler Hamilton Foundation web page, a hearing date before U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has been set for the week of February 28.
Last September, Hamilton’s world spun out of control after UCI officials notified his Phonak team that he failed doping tests following his victory in a time trial stage at the 2004 Vuelta a España. Subsequent follow-up “B” tests confirmed evidence of homologous blood doping, a charge he’s strongly denied.
Hamilton is facing a possible two-year racing ban, but has vowed to clear his name with a vigorous defense. A team of lawyers has been working to prepare material to present to the USADA panel later this month in an effort to demonstrate inconsistencies in the blood doping test.
The New Englander was allowed to keep his Olympic gold medal following confusion on how his blood samples were handled during the Summer Games in Athens. Initially, Hamilton’s blood samples came back negative, but were later deemed to be positive after further consideration by a panel of experts.
Because of the uncertainty, Hamilton’s blood samples were frozen according to post-test protocol if samples came back negative. By freezing the sample, red blood cells were destroyed, making it impossible to conduct the required follow-up “B” test.
In the wake of Hamilton’s problems, Phonak found itself under the microscope and eventually lost its place in the UCI’s ProTour racing league after a string of doping scandals. But just this week, the Sports Arbitration Court (CAS) overturned the UCI’s decision and gave the Swiss team a two-year ProTour license.
CAS is just where Hamilton might go if USADA imposes a stiff racing ban. Efforts by fellow ex-Phonak teammate Santi Pérez, the only other athlete who has tested positive for homologous blood doping, to take the issue to civil court were stymied last month by a Spanish judge.
Mayo keeping low profile in Tour buildup
After ripping through the first half of the 2004 season, don’t expect to see much of Iban Mayo before this year’s Tour de France.
The Basque climber tore through May and June last year, taking eights wins including the overall titles at the Dauphiné Libéré and the Vuelta a Asturias, all before his bitter meltdown when it really mattered in the Tour.
This season, Mayo will skip the Dauphiné altogether and likely race on the smoother roads at the Tour of Cataluyna or the Tour de Suisse rather than the demanding steeps in the French Alps.
“I’m not cursed in any way. The Tour is a complicated race and there are years when things don’t go well, that’s all,” Mayo told the Spanish daily MARCA during the team’s presentation. “I won’t do the Dauphiné. I’ve done it a few times and I want to try some other races.”
Mayo said he’s fully recovered from the crashes and mononucleosis that hampered his Tour effort last year and insists he can still shine, but he won’t dare say how brightly.
“I believe that I have the capacity to be on the Tour podium, but I don’t want to set myself a goal. I want to do it well, in the best possible manner, and that’s it,” he continued. “I don’t want any early pressure. The program isn’t defined after April. What I want to have is the form I had in the Dauphiné to coincide with the Tour.”
Bettini back in action at Mallorca Challenge
Olympic champion Paolo Bettini will make his season debut in Sunday’s Trofeo Mallorca in Spain. From there, the “Grillo” will bounce into the Trophée Laigueglia, Tour du Haut Var, Het Volk and Tirreno-Adriatico in his lead up to Milan-San Remo.
Bettini has also set his sights on the Tour of Flanders as well as the Giro d’Italia, where he finished seventh overall in 1998. The winner of the last three World Cups also wants to do well in the inaugural ProTour.
Quick Step for Mallorca Challenge (Feb. 6-10)
Dimitri De Fauw
Ad Engels (won’t start first race)
Josè Antonio Garrido
Juan Miguel Mercado
Josè Antonio Pecharroman
Roche follows dad’s footsteps
Nicholas Roche will follow in the footsteps of his father, cycling legend Stephen Roche, as he begins his professional career this year with Cofidis.
Not much is expected from the 20-year-old Irishman by Cofidis brass, at least not at first. The French team is willing to give the young man a chance to mature and find his way in the peloton in what’s sure to be a year filled with curious press inquiries.
“If one day, the expectations on me are to finish in the top 10, I’ll be more than happy to do it,” Nicolas told Eurosport. “But I’ll start by keeping the head on the shoulders and just doing my job.”
There’s extra pressure being the son of someone as famous as dad, who in 1987 was the last to win cycling’s triple crown – the Giro, Tour and world championships. Comparison to his father are inevitable, but Nicholas Roche only has to look to Axel Merckx who’s been held up to his equally famous father since turning pro in 1993.
“I think he (Axel Merckx) probably has the same type of answer that I have,” Nicholas told Europort. “We’ve been born like that. We’ve been assimilated that way. We don’t know what it’s like not to be called (the son of a great cyclist). I see it more as having pride in being called (Stephen Roche’s son).”
Frenchman Freddy Bichot (Française des Jeux) enters Thursday’s second stage of l’Etoile de Bessèges,149km from Nîmes to Saint-Ambroix, with the leader’s jersey after snagging victory in Wednesday’s opening stage.
Lars Michaelsen (CSC) will defend his lead in Thursday’s fourth stage of the Tour of Qatar. The 35-year-old Dane profited from his team’s domination in Wednesday’s third stage and Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto), fourth at 1:36 back, is his closet threat that’s not a teammate.
Note: We made an error in Wednesday’s Eurofile; the Mallorca Challenge and the GP Costa delle Etruschi aren’t until Sunday. We regret the error and hate European calendars.