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Tyler tunes: One heck of a day

I think for the rest of my life, April 27th, 2003, is going to stay with me as something special. Achieving victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège is something my team and I will always look back on with amazement and pride. It sounds kind of trite to say it like this, but it's true - everything came together perfectly for us on Sunday. The entire CSC team rode incredibly well together. There wasn't one guy on our squad who didn't play a role. All in all, it was a fantastic day, top to bottom. Heading out, I was a little concerned about the weather. It rained hard on Saturday and the forecast for

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By Tyler Hamilton, CSC cycling team

On the Côte de la Redoute

Photo: AFP

I think for the rest of my life, April 27th, 2003, is going to stay with me as something special.

Achieving victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège is something my team and I will always look back on with amazement and pride. It sounds kind of trite to say it like this, but it’s true – everything came together perfectly for us on Sunday. The entire CSC team rode incredibly well together. There wasn’t one guy on our squad who didn’t play a role. All in all, it was a fantastic day, top to bottom.

Heading out, I was a little concerned about the weather. It rained hard on Saturday and the forecast for Sunday wasn’t great. But we were spared for most of the stage which was a blessing. At 258.5 kilometers, a rainy Liège-Bastogne-Liège makes for a long day in soggy bike clothes. Amazingly, we didn’t encounter any rain until the final kilometers of the race.

No matter what the weather, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is always a long day at the office. With eleven major climbs and so many kilometers to cover, you can count on a full day of work, effort and pain. With about 140 kilometers to go things started getting busy and the stress levels picked up a bit. There was a lot of pressure at the front of the peloton. It was at this point the race really got underway.

Going over the Côte de la Redoute (at 35km to go), one of the most feared climbs in the race, I found myself in a group of about 12 riders including Lance Armstrong. After a bunch of attacks and counter-attacks, a group finally got away that included Lance, Bartoli, Sanchez and Shefer… and I was sure I had missed the winning move.

But our group was quickly joined by a second group of 25. We were suddenly a pretty sizable peloton. Looking around, I realized that I had two of my teammates in this group, Carlos Sastre and Nicki Sorensen.

They both buried themselves completely to chase down the lead breakaway. I was amazed at the strength they had. Because of their fantastic efforts, we caught the break, right at the base of the most decisive climb of the race, the Côte de Saint Nicolas (6.5km to go). My team had taken great care of me up to that point. Now it was time to pay them back.

I was able to make the front group of five or six guys going over this brutally steep climb. On the descent I took a chance and attacked and it paid off. I knew I wasn’t the most dangerous rider in the group which contained guys like Boogerd and Mayo, who would be much faster if it came down to a sprint. I just put my head down and went. A move like this, with 3 or so kilometers to go is definitely risky. But I felt like it was the right move to make.

When I saw that I had a good gap I couldn’t believe it. I kept looking behind to see how far the chasers were. I was sure the Boogerd, Mayo duo was not going to let me get too far. But the motorcycles kept getting in my line of vision. So I was never able to get a feel for how far ahead I was. Finally, just before the finish line, I looked back and realized my gap was substantial and that I was going to win the race. The feeling was indescribable. The road was wide open and I was the only one there. And I was probably the most stunned of anyone. All I could think was this was going to be a great day for the team. I rode across the finish in a trance. And then chaos erupted.

This part really hurt.

This part really hurt.

Photo: AFP

Those final two kilometers felt like 200. There are no words for the pain that coursed through my body during those last moments of the race. I finished exhausted and overwhelmed. I couldn’t breathe or react. And then all of a sudden I was surrounded by cameras. People were screaming questions. Everyone wanted to know how I felt. At that point, I didn’t even know what day it was.

There are a flood of emotions and thoughts that run through your head on a day like I had on Sunday. Bike racing sometimes requires 99 percent suffering for a 1 percent gain. And that’s if you’re lucky. When I spoke with my wife later that evening she said something kind of interesting. Her comment was about my attack with 3 kilometers to go. She said, “You know Tyler, I was just so happy to see you make a move like that, so close to the finish of such a huge race. You have fought hard just to be in that kind of company.”

If the race had come back together again, she still would have thought the day was a triumph. This is a girl who really understands bike racing. She met me at a time when I was doing domestic races in America and thought I had reached the peak of my potential.

We’ve been on a long journey together. When I refer to my supportive “team” she’s included in that group. Along with everyone else who has been on my bandwagon over the years. So many coaches, family members, friends, anonymous cycling fans and riders. I’ve been really blessed.

So it was quite a day. After a somewhat rocky spring, the CSC team was finally able to show what they were capable of. Everyone rode at the top of his game. And Bjarne, Sean Yates and Johnny Weltz were behind us, backing us up the whole way. It was one of those one in a million days on the bike when the momentum was on our side. And Nicolas Jalabert’s victory at the Niedersachsen stage race in Germany was the icing on the CSC cake. It was a day our team will never forget.

And as always, thanks for reading.

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