Hamilton Comes Clean

In American cycling, the proverbial other shoe seems to keep dropping. Tyler Hamilton’s revelation that yes, in fact, he did use EPO, that everyone was using EPO, that he saw EPO in Lance Armstrong’s refrigerator, that he saw Armstrong inject it, ought to be the bombshell of all bombshells.

Instead of being met with gape-mouthed stares of shock, most of the cycling public are scratching their heads. After years of denials, a conviction, a suspension, a return to the sport with lukewarm results followed by a second positive test followed immediately his retirement from the sport, Hamilton has chosen this moment to come clean. Why now?

Hamilton says it was the occasion of testifying before the federal grand jury. His time in the hot seat lasted six full hours and he likened the event to the Hoover Dam breaking; it was the first time he had told anyone the complete truth of his involvement in and knowledge of doping.

Floyd Landis hasn’t had much luck getting the powers-that-be to listen to his tale of woe. Pat McQuaid figures that as a convicted doper, Landis was lying when he defended himself. And because he defended himself, proclaiming his innocence in the wake of his positive test, for him now to admit that he was doping means that he’s a liar. Try not to parse that logic too much, it’s tantamount to saying that if 3 + 5 = 8 then 5 + 3 = 9.

Landis, in spouting off on an ever-more diverse array of events and unprovable accusations, has done himself no favors. He and Hamilton share in common the belief that telling the truth will set them free; they are probably right. Most rehabilitation programs include some form of confession; from the Catholic Church to Alcoholics Anonymous, telling the truth is a fairly universal step in healing. But Landis seems to have confused what be believes to be true from what he has actually seen; whether or not that’s the case, too few people are listening to what he has to say. He has been re-cast as the big boy who cried wolf.

Hamilton has a chance to do what Landis could not. Before his positive test, subsequent defense and ultimate suspension, Hamilton was universally admired. The guy everyone liked, even the Lance haters. He was hailed as unusually bright and polite among pro cyclists, cut from finer cloth.

I can’t claim Hamilton as a friend. He was an acquaintance at best. But he knew my face and remembered me each time we crossed paths, whether I sought him out or not. I believe he’s a guy with a moral compass, a conscience, that the decisions he faced, the choices he made, were hard, soul-rending. Nonetheless, he made them, and as the events of his positive test unfolded, his achievements crumbled.

It’s easy to dismiss him as a doper. The only way to understand the magnitude of the problem, the depth of the coercion is to picture the land from their shoes. And while not everyone was on EPO during that period, more cyclists were than were not. What he knows could be useful in the fight against doping and based on his statements, it sounds like doping wasn’t something he welcomed. Most cyclists see it as a do-or-die choice. That’s no excuse, but listening to those who have faced that choice could help the sport avoid those situations in the future.

Hamilton says it’s time for a change in cycling and that for the reform cycling needs to take place, big changes need to begin at the top. Let’s hope those who need to are listening.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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14 comments

  1. Sophrosune

    Doping in cycling, or any sport, is more complicated than we really appreciate. I think this is so because it is so much about ourselves as much as anything. Self-righteous condemnation is the first reaction, and the easiest. It, however, is the least helpful in seeing the situation somehow rectified. We all think to ourselves that Hamilton and Landis and the rest could have just said no and walked away from the sport, but when I challenge myself and put myself in their shoes of facing an uncertain future after being the best at something I love I am not so certain I would walk away so easily.

    The troubling part of the story is the official reaction from Armstrong’s lawyer. I think what we may be seeing in Armstrong and lacking in both Landis and Hamilton is a full-blown sociopath. Sure they denied their transgressions for years and took money in defense of those lies, but it seems to have always eaten away at them whether they realized it or not. That does not seem to be the case with Mr. Armstrong.

  2. MCH

    I was happy to see Tyler’s confession and look forward to seeing the full interview this weekend. He seems to be a nice guy caught in a difficult situation. His situation illustrates that humans are multi-dimensional and that it is possible to be a good person and make very bad decisions. After testing positive, he stuck to the Lance playbook (or the Bonds, McGwire, etc., etc. playbook) and denied everything. I’m glad to see that he’s turned away from the moral rot that goes hand-in-hand with that strategy. Of course, I have no insight into his real motivation. However, from a, “for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”, perspective (apologies to JD), I’d like to assume noble intent.

    As a side note, I can’t help but feel sorry for George. Having raced through the doping era and as one of Lance’s top leutenants, the spotlight could easily swing in his direction. The fact that he’s still racing makes this, perhaps, more likely. He seems, to me at least, to be another nice guy. If the storm comes his way, I hope he’s able to weather it.

  3. MCH

    Sheesh, that didn’t take long. Best of luck to George. Tyler too.

    On another note, I can’t help but think that the Lance camp’s attempt to smear 60 minutes is going to fail miserably. If so, its about time.

  4. Boz

    When are the dope police going to track down the real culprits in all of the – the team owner and management. They profit the most and seem to be largely ignored by most everybody. I doubt that a rider gets up in the morning and thinks to himself “I think I should round up some EPO and get down to business”. I’m sure the stuff isn’t cheap, so someone needs some deeper pockets than the average rider has. Just sayin’.

  5. MMM

    You ask, “Why now?” Well, that is just plain silly. With the world ending at 6 PM EST today, yesterday seems like the perfect time for a confessional. Who would want to hold on to that gem going into the end of it all? Rumor has it that Lance has scheduled a press conference for 5 PM EST today, so as not to be out done. (This is all is jest!)

  6. Jarvis

    If Hamilton had had a moral compass and a conscience, he wouldn’t have doped in the first place. There are many who think that all who rode through that era doped, but they would be wrong.

    Bassons had a moral compass. Irrespective of whether they were nice guys or not, Hamilton didn’t have a moral compass, he was just another doper, as was Hincapie

  7. Grizzly Adam

    “He lied then, he must be lying now” is a classic misappropriation of the Liar’s Paradox: “This statement is false.” It worked with Landis. It won’t work as well with Hamilton. It won’t work at all with Hincapie. At some point there will be dozens of people telling the same story about Lance armstrong. What then? Are they all unreliable lunatics? LA is finished.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: thanks for your comments. This is an important event in cycling and I’m glad to see so many passionate responses.

      If I may offer a rebuttal to some of the comments though: reducing someone to a simple tag like “doper” allows us to miss larger truths.

  8. sophrosune

    I am not a trained psychologist but from everything I’ve read and heard I would stick with sociopath.

  9. Laurence

    Hi Padraig,
    I couldn’t agree more. I was thinking just the other day that in certain circumstances I could see myself doping. Fortunately, I have never been a good enough cyclist to be faced with that choice. But if I was told that I could ride the tour if I doped, and that is something I had worked towards all my life, and I guys were riding away from who I knew were doped, and I was told, “You can’t be caught”…well, I might just do it.

    People are quick to judge but most have never had the experience that offers them the insight to do so justly.

    Here are my thoughts; http://www.theweeklycycle.com/2011/05/drugs-in-cycling.html

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