Tyler Hamilton Interview - Part 2
Dave Osborne talks with US Champion Tyler Hamilton of Team Rock Racing about his difficult years of suspension, his year with Team Tinkoff, the move to Rock Racing, the current state of US cycling – and he tells us about the qualities of a new bike brand he fancies.
...continued from part 1.
DO: From what you told us earlier in this interview I get the impression that the suspension and the ordeal that you went through with that has taken its toll on you, obviously. As you say, you quietly retired so do you think that was a significant part of that or to what extent did the suspension and the ordeal that followed affect you personally and professionally?
TH: That was hard; that was hard but, you know for me, I never gave up. I knew I was right and I knew I was going to come back without a doubt. I fought two different arbitrations. You know, the first one I lost in the 2 to 1 vote. I could go on about all the arbitration process, the two arbitrations I went through, and how unfair it was but I fought hard and I never gave up. Then, it was such a, I don’t know what the word is, shoots buzz kill to run into Tinkoff. At that point, I just – I was losing; I wasn’t having fun with the sport, that’s for sure. Like I said before, if you do not have fun with whatever you’re doing. If I wasn’t enjoying it, both on the bike and off the bike, I was miserable. I just felt like it was time. I fought so hard and really remained in the sport but the future looked bleak. I didn’t, I hadn’t really had any results in three and a half years. And then, you know, I get a phone call in early December from Michael Ball. He’s my hero.
DO: Well, you’re certainly in a better place now than obviously with Tinkoff.
TH: Yeah, again, I don’t have a whole lot of good things to say about him. We’ll just leave it at that, I guess. I feel really fortunate. It was just one phone call from him (Michael Ball, ed.), I think for him it was the shot in the dark. Maybe if I wasn’t on, who knows what would have happened. We had great conversation ...
DO: I hear he’s somewhat of a character and perhaps ruffles a few feathers.
TH: Yeah, if you read what the media writes but if you knew him the way I know him … Everybody should try to give him time and get to know Michael Ball because he’s going to be around this sport for a very long time, I can guarantee you that. He’s been a great person for this sport just, you know. Really, this is his first year with the team. They did exist last year, but this is the first big year for a team. He has done a lot for US cycling this year. He has been a big sponsor for a lot of the races, Tour of California, Tour of Georgia, the U.S. Pro Championship. He has also helped some of the smaller races – small classic races that have been around for such a long time. Helped them stay afloat. Races like the Harlem Criterium, which maybe didn’t have a big name to it but … This year he’s put his brand and his attitude towards racing.
DO: So he’s certainly a broad based individual when you talk about his focus and concern for cycling?
TH: He is a huge advocate for rider’s rights. He believes the riders should have way more of a voice in the sport. He is working hard to have that come through at some point. Right now, we don’t have a whole lot to say, but some day we will.
TH: Certainly, the sport of cycling is better with Michael Ball.
DO: One of the things with Roadcycling.com is that we support charities and causes and specifically we have supported the Tyler Hamilton Foundation. We would like an update from you as to what is going on with the Foundation and I know the Global Ride is in the U.S. this year so, what can you tell us?
TH: I believe this is the sixth year doing MS Global. It is our marquee ride. The past five years have been in Europe, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy. Last year we were in the Dolomites. Beautiful! As you know, the Euro is so strong right now. We have to – every day we are trying to make money and trying to cure this disease. Right now, we want to bring as much money into this fight as possible. This year it’s going to be in the U.S. It’s actually going to be in Vail, Colorado just after I come home from the Tour of Great Britain. We have one day at home and then off to Vale. I have been fortunate in my life to remain somewhat healthy, knock on wood. When you see people here who are suffering with the disease of MS (multiple sclerosis) and it really puts everything in perspective. For me, I feel like we’re going to have success. I feel like it’s an obligation to give back. For me, it is inspiring to see these people who have MS go out on a bike. I think it has done a lot for them. I have been involved with the MS Society since 1996 or 1997. There are just so many people with this disease. I know a lot of close friends who have the disease. For the rest of my life, I want to do funding to find a cure.
DO: Well, that’s an excellent effort that you’re putting forth in that and Roadcycling.com wishes you all the best and your foundation all the best in the ride in the states this year.
TH: It should be fun. I’m looking forward to it.
DO: You have ridden, obviously, and raced in Europe and you’re heading to Britain for the Tour of Britain for your last race of the season, what can you tell our readers about the differences in racing and the sport of cycling from the United States to Europe?
TH: Before I started racing professionally in 1995, at that point I was primarily racing in the U.S. with a few occasional trips to Europe, and basically since then, I went over to Europe basically full time starting with the 1997 Tour de France. Really, when I came back - basically raced full time back domestically this year - the level had really risen and I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the quality of the peleton. In the mid 90s, it felt like there was a quarter to a half of the peloton who was very strong and now the speed feels similar to that in Europe. That gap has certainly closed down a lot. It is really nice to see. Again, riders like Blake Caldwell, all the three guys in the break with Garmin at U.S. Pros. They are young kids and it just impresses me to see those three guys and all the other guys who are racing will have a lot of success in Europe I can pretty much guarantee it. Again, the gap has closed. For me, I did with a few races last spring in 2007. I certainly wasn’t in great form then so it’s harder to compare. I was suffering a lot basically so it’s hard to compare. It will be interesting to see how I feel. I’m not maybe at 100 percent but I think I’m in pretty good form. It will be interesting to see for sure. The Tour of Great Britain will be a higher race. It is a quality field this year. We have big aspirations.
DO: Thank you for that. One of the things that we do at Roadcycling.com is we write products reviews, test products, and whatnot. Readers are obviously interested in bicycles. What can you say about some of the bikes that you ridden on the different teams and what they are like?
TH: Luckily for me, I have been fortunate in my career to ride some really top quality bikes. On the U.S. Postal team, on the Trek, on the CSC team, I was on a Look and then Cervelo which, at the time, was a small, small company, which is something to think about now. And then on Phonak, I was on
TH: KirkLee. It’s based out of Las Vegas. One of their owners, former owners is John McGuire. He has been doing carbon fiber for a long time and decided in the last year to go out on his own. He will be there at the Las Vegas bike show and I think people should give that bike a whirl. I have been very impressed riding it.
TH: Another I have ridden, Parlee you know it, right?
TH: I actually was 2nd in the Giro on a Parlee in 2002. I actually was having a few issues just with my position on my Look bike and Look was lenient and they allowed me to ride a Parlee which was custom built for me. It was a beautiful bike. The owner, Bob Parlee, is a great person. I feel like KirkLee right now is the next Parlee.
DO: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. We wish you great success in the Tour of Britain and beyond.
TH: Thanks and you’re welcome.