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Tyler’s close call – How Hamilton’s win almost didn’t happen

Amid the celebration of what was the most athletic stage win in this year’s Tour, Tyler Hamilton took time out to admit that he made a huge mistake early in the day. Just 10km into the stage, as the peloton sped over the day’s first climb, the Cat. 4 Côte des Crêtes, Radio Tour announced that a group of 20 riders had been dropped. Then came the news that No. 71, Hamilton, was in that group. “I made a mistake, a big mistake,” Hamilton said after the stage. “We went over that Category 4 climb and it was a windy, twisty descent. There were a lot of attacks from the front, and the peloton was

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By John Wilcockson

Photo: Graham Watson

Amid the celebration of what was the most athletic stage win in this year’s Tour, Tyler Hamilton took time out to admit that he made a huge mistake early in the day.

Just 10km into the stage, as the peloton sped over the day’s first climb, the Cat. 4 Côte des Crêtes, Radio Tour announced that a group of 20 riders had been dropped. Then came the news that No. 71, Hamilton, was in that group.

“I made a mistake, a big mistake,” Hamilton said after the stage. “We went over that Category 4 climb and it was a windy, twisty descent. There were a lot of attacks from the front, and the peloton was single file. I was just too far back in the peloton, and all of a sudden the peloton split, and I was in the second group.”

In fact, on this last stage in the mountains, 48km (30 miles) were covered in the first hour, and trying to get back to that fast-moving pack was a huge task. “It was a big, big mistake,” he repeated. “You know, I had to call for help [on my team radio], and luckily I had four or five teammates drop back and help me. Without their help, I don’t know whether we’d have caught, caught back up.

“It was my own fault, and I felt terrible for having those guys come back and really [work so hard]. And I think their efforts…. They paid a big price for that big effort to bridge back up.

I made a big mistake.
Tyler Hamilton

“After that, I felt — I was mad at myself — and I really wanted to repay them and have a good stage today.” Once Hamilton was back safe, he had only about 15km to recover before the race hit the formidable Col de Soudet.

“When we got to the Soudet, then … Bjarne [Riis] told me if I felt good to try an attack, so I did.” It was quite an attack, as on the Soudet’s first 12-percent slopes, the CSC team leader broke away from the front. Everyone saw him go, but no one could follow.

He quickly closed a 90-second gap to an earlier move, from which his Danish teammate Nike Sørensen dropped back to help him close the last few seconds. Once at the front, Hamilton took charge. He led up the next steep climb, the 10.5-percent Côte de Larreau, then, after a strong lead out by Sørensen, began his solo break on the impossibly steep Col de Bagargui, which most had to ride in a 39×25 gear.

Even though he had 94km left to ride on his own, Hamilton kept on gaining over the yellow jersey group that grew from 20 riders to 70 riders as his lead grew to a maximum of 5:21 with43 km still to go,. “I knew if I could keep the gap at five minutes and hold it as long as I could,” said Hamilton, “it would break their morale.”

His plan worked, but only after an enormous workload that drew universal compliments. And all that with a broken collarbone! “I dedicate today’s victory to my teammates,” Hamilton said. “You know, without their help I wouldn’t have won, and I apologize for my mistake.”

Stage wins don’t get .much better, or more spectacular, than this one. But that early mistake almost ruled it out. What a recovery! What a team! What a rider!