By Andrew Hood
Tyler Hamilton could know his cycling future as soon as the end of next week after a three-day hearing before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency began Monday in Denver.
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 three-person USADA panel to demonstrate inconsistencies in the blood doping test.
Hamilton’s lawyer, Howard Jacobs, told The Denver Post’s John Henderson the defense is “fairly optimistic” it can disprove the validity of the test.
“It helps that if you have an athlete who tests positive for nandrolone, which has been tested for 15 years, and you say, ‘hey, the test isn’t valid’, you won’t get far with that,” Jacobs told the Post. “But here the validity of the test has to be established. We’ve preached all along it’s not a valid test. Maybe we know something they don’t.”
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 tests were deemed as negative and the second “B” sample was frozen according to post-test protocol if samples came back negative. Later, anti-doping officials took a second look at Hamilton’s “A” test and ruled it was a positive test.
By freezing the sample, red blood cells were rendered impossible to conduct the required follow-up “B” test.
At the Vuelta, Hamilton failed tests in both “A” and “B” blood samples and UCI officials ruled he was positive for homologous blood doping.
If Hamilton is cleared of doping charges, he will be allowed to return to racing immediately. Hamilton wrote on his personal web page last month he’d like to return to his former Phonak team and race in this year’s Tour de France.
If the hearing supports the UCI recommendation of a two-year racing ban, Hamilton could challenge his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The USADA panel also has the option to reduce the amount of a time for a ban.
In Spain, Santi Pérez was sanctioned two years by the Spanish cycling federation. The Spanish rider won three stages and finished second overall in last year’s Vuelta, but later failed a doping test that revealed evidence of blood doping.
Pérez gave blood samples voluntarily during an out-of-competition test during a visit to the UCI headquarters in Switzerland in early October. Efforts by Pérez to have the blood samples thrown out were rejected by a civil court last month.
Like Hamilton, Pérez has vehemently denied he was blood doping and promised to appeal the ruling to a national sport disciplinary committee. If the sanction is confirmed, Pérez could then appeal to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. LA filling out schedule
After attending the Oscars ceremony last weekend in Los Angeles with girlfriend Sheryl Crow, Lance Armstrong will travel this week to Europe to prepare for his season debut at Paris-Nice on March 6-13.
Armstrong confirmed last month he’ll make a run for a seventh consecutive Tour de France title, announcing he will compete in Paris-Nice, the Tour of Flanders, the Tour de Georgia and the Tour.
Armstrong is now adding races to his spring schedule, with race organizers confirming that he will start Setmana Catalana (March 21-25) after finishing Paris-Nice.
Reports in Belgium have Armstrong lining up at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (March 26) and the Brabantse Pijl (March 27) to prepare for the Tour of Flanders on April 3.
Organizers have also confirmed that Armstrong will join his Discovery Channel teammates in the ProTour team time trial race June 19 in Eindhoven, Holland. The time trial race will give the team a chance to work on the important discipline ahead of the 2005 Tour.
Savoldelli back for Paris-Nice
Italian Paolo Savoldelli will make his season debut alongside Lance Armstrong at Paris-Nice for Discovery Channel.
Savoldelli broke his clavicle in a training accident at the team’s California training camp in January, but will be back on the bike sooner than expected. A winner of the 2002 Giro d’Italia, Savoldelli will be leading the American crew at the Giro in his major goal of the season.
Also expected to line up for Discovery Channel are George Hincapie and Vladimir Popovych.
Hincapie satisfied with KBK win
George Hincapie said winning the 58th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday was an ideal way to start the 2005 campaign.
“I trained really hard this winter, but I felt healthy and strong,” Hincapie told Belgian TV after winning. “I wanted to get a win before the big ones. The last races I’ve won here have been in Belgium, so maybe I have some luck here.”
Hincapie said he’s excited about having Lance Armstrong ride the Tour of Flanders next month. Hincapie is the only teammate to ride alongside Armstrong in all six of the Texan’s Tour victories.
“Having Lance at the race is always positive for the team. I’m sure he’s watching the team and seeing how strong the team is. (In Het Volk) in the hardest moment we had three guys in the breakaway,” he said. “We have a great sponsor and we’re super-motivated to do well. Having Lance at Flanders will be good for the Belgium people. This is a great country and they have a great passion for the sport. This is the only country where people recognize me in the airport.”
The win was the first of the season for new team sponsor Discovery Channel and gave a clear indication that Hincapie is in fine form coming into this year’s spring classics.
Hincapie followed Kevin Van Impe (Chocolade Jacques), who counter-attacked the lead group with about 6km to go in cold blustery conditions in the Belgian semi-classic.
“It was like a World Cup race, there were attacks all day,” Hincapie continued. “It was as race of attrition, everyone was dead at the end. I saw (Van Impe) go. He went right before the tailwind section, so I knew it was a moment. I had to go hard to get him. I was glad I got him.”
Snow blocks roads in Murcia
Heavy snows have blocked mountain roads just 48 hours before the start of the Vuelta a Murcia set to begin Tuesday in southern Spain. A cold front swept through Spain on Monday, leaving the Sierra del Collado Bermejo buried under more than one foot of snow.
The climb is set to be featured as the “etapa reina” on Saturday, but Spain’s Guardia Civil closed off roads some 10km from the summit on Monday night.
Forecasters are calling for cold weather to continue through Friday, leaving race organizers hopeful the roads will be cleared in time for the weekend’s big climbing stage.
Wintry conditions forced organizers to cancel two major climbs in the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana last weekend, including the summit finish at Alto del Campello.
Freire to recon world’s route after classics
World champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will be in Madrid next month to review the route for the 2005 road world’s. Freire said he will race defend his title at Milan-San Remo and race the Belgian classics before traveling to Madrid by April to inspect the course.
Teams for Milan-San Remo
Organizers for the upcoming Milan-San Remo released the list of teams scheduled to start March 19:
Aqua & Sapone
Naturino-Sapore di Mare