Listening to Tyler


By the time 60 Minutes aired Sunday night, I had digested every element of the show I could in advance. I’d parsed quote upon quote and laughed at Lance Armstrong’s attempts to discredit the single most storied broadcast news magazine on the planet.

As the fader brought up the iconic sound of the stopwatch ticking, I leaned forward in my chair and waited. While I knew what I would see in broad strokes, I hoped for two things. First, I wanted to see Tyler Hamilton’s demeanor. Was he contrite? Was he conflicted? Was he vengeful? Second, I wondered if I might hear anything that would surprise me.

Different people saw different things as they watched Hamilton unfold the events of his past. What I saw was a guy who was uncomfortable in front of the camera, uncomfortable telling what he knew. And while I perceived remorse, I saw a man in depression, a man in pain over all he had lost.

I was uncomfortable watching him.

Part of my discomfort stemmed from old anger. Hamilton had represented the best cycling had to offer. He was educated, decent and—we all thought—clean. When he went down he took a number of people with him. People placed faith in him and had all but mortgaged the farm to help him succeed and track that success. He was the anti-Lance and in 2003 we thought we had found in him a story of extraordinary courage and determination. His was a story to rival Lance’s, in part, because he was so polite, so self-effacing.

Most of my discomfort stemmed from wondering just how much punishment is enough. He’s lost everything he built in his career, but he wasn’t doped for the whole of his career. Is that just? And the interview barely glanced at his career-ending positive test for DHEA. I have to ask, Do we really know the full story about him taking DHEA? How could he be so stupid as to take a banned substance as his sole recourse to depression? I struggle with that explanation, but that’s a minor point. The larger question is how much punishment is enough? After stripping a rider of success, should he also be stripped of a future?

Back to that interview: I’ve heard people assess it as a tired re-hash of the accusations we’ve heard against Armstrong for years. It wasn’t. Hamilton made two surprising statements. His first was that he actually saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs. No one has made that claim previously. He second was that his team management worked with the UCI to cover up a positive drug test at the 2001 Tour de Suisse. Armstrong made “donations” to the UCI and the cycling public never heard a word.

For those of you who doubt Hamilton’s ability to tell the truth—any truth—remember, this nugget has been corroborated by the anonymous source 60 Minutes spoke with for the story. The source revealed that the FBI took a sworn deposition from the director of the lab that tested Armstrong’s sample. The lab director said he met with Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel and was informed by the UCI the positive result was to be reported nowhere.

These weren’t garden-variety accusations.

Forgiving riders who doped has nothing to do with justifying their behavior and everything to do with finding out what they took, what they know, the methods they used. We must learn the best doping techniques out there if we are to defeat them in the future. And if unemployment is guaranteed, a rider, coach or whoever has zero incentive to reveal what they know. We shouldn’t tolerate repeated infractions (Riccardo Ricco, anyone?) but the silence of the offenders does us no good.

I used to think of doped riders as broken people, whether the deficit is narcissism, insecurity or sociopathy, they were people who need help. After watching one doping case after another unfold, I have come to believe that most of the athletes who turn to performance enhancing drugs do so out of a sense of coercion. Even though they may be incorrect, they believe the rest of the peloton is on the stuff, so they enter the practice.

My personal life has been punctuated with relationships too torn to rescue. Forgiveness has, at times, been an act of kindness too great for me to summon. But I struggle with that. I know that every religion on the planet and nearly every constitution regards forgiveness and redemption as a central tenet. Hell, half of the reality shows are built around people recovering their humanity after some fall from grace. We obviously love to forgive people.

It’s easy to condemn Hamilton. Too easy. Let’s listen to him. And let’s not abandon him; down that road lay the fallen. Their graves bear names like Pantani, Jimenez.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Moots

    I’ve been watching 60 minutes for at least 30 years. They are quite easy to discredit.
    I didn’t buy Hamilton’s big show of remorse or difficulty in talking about what happened. It was too over the top and no doubt lawyer inspired. You say “he wasn’t doped for the whole of his career”. We don’t know that. Thats what he says and we know his word is meaningless as he lied long and profusely just like so many others. I also don’t believe for a second that he didn’t dope during the Olympics.
    No doubt he is an amazing cyclist but he is also a discredit to the sport and he has played a significant role in ruing the sport for many of us. The riders doping and UCI corruption mean professional cycling has taken a big hit in stature, advertiser support, and viewer interest. Who is going to want to sponsor a professional cycling team at millions of dollars per year in that climate? More importantly how is this going to affect Livestrong and the good work it does?
    Looks like LeMond was right all along. He is owed an apology by a lot of people.

  2. reverend dick

    I agree with Moots. Especially in light of the fact that he has a book coming out. Confession (when it is coerced- why now? oh yeah, Grand Jury.)is good for the sales, not the soul.

    I have no love left for Hamilton. The exposure of his doping, on the heels of that sublime broken collar bone were the straw that broke my interest in PRO riding as anything other than the circus.

  3. pdx velo

    I’m of the flip side of Moots and Rev’ Dick. I see a man who came the ‘majority’ clean and is revealing a lot of dirt on the ‘postie empire’. Who gives a shit whether he’s writing a book? I don’t; I would have never glanced at it amidst the denial, but now that Tyler actually corroborated what every educated follower of the sport already knew I’m more likely to give it a read.
    As for the confession, I see it more as a preemptive clipping of the Armstrong shit-smear machine that follows any ounce of truth about the posties, rather than promoting a book that very few people would actually read. His book appeals only to those whose heads aren’t buried in the sand.
    Cheers to Tyler, albeit forced or not, for shitting at the dinner table. It gives me hope for the sport.

  4. Gal

    He dopped, he lied about it and I somehow beleive him now.
    what striked me the most was a sense of disapontment i got from him like he should have knowen better, he is more disapointed with him self then we all can never be.
    I hope there is a light for him somewhere at the end of the road.

  5. Flahute

    @Moots Tyler says that he didn’t dope during the Olympics, but that he had a blood transfusion before the Olympics and that it’s possible/probable that residuals from that transfusion triggered his positive test. That’s one of the reasons why he voluntarily returned his medal.

    Tyler should be listened to … as should Floyd, if he ever calms down enough to make a cogent argument rather than just ranting as he has been for the past year. Frankie should be listened to. If George ever decides to speak publicly, he should be listened to.

    The only person who should not be listened to is the paranoid sociopath that “won” the Tour 7 times in a row.

    As for Livestrong, there are many other cancer charities out there … most of which do a lot more to find a cure for cancer than Livestrong does; and do so far more efficiently.

    According to Livestrong’s 2009 IRS Form 990, of the $42MM raised in 2009, only $5MM went to grants, whereas $6MM went to salaries and $18MM went to “other expenses” … I prefer to donate my money to charities which actually use most of their revenue for their stated purpose.

  6. Grizzly Adam

    Great piece. Well said. Pro cycling is a trash-heap of corruption and cheating. The more riders that come out and speak about that, the cleaner the sport will become. It will take time. It will be ugly. But I’d rather pull the whole thing down and rebuild it than have to watch synthetic victories in race after race. In the meantime… I’m going to keep riding my bike.

  7. Mike

    I heard a different message in Hamilton’s words. “…like we all did…” – instead of focusing on the accusation that Armstrong was doping, look at the rest of the team. Tyler admitted that he doped in front of Lance – Armstrong knew that his teammates were cheating and said nothing about it. If you knew that your co-workers were doping, that they were cheating while on your own team, and you were supposed to be showing everyone that you were clean, wouldn’t you say something? If all his former teammates are “liars”, and “disgraced cheats”, why did Lance race with them on his own team for so many years?

    Tyler was saying that the team itself was dirty – whether they were coerced or decided for themselves to dope – and that Lance was okay with that.

  8. Wayne Sulak

    I think 60 minutes did an admirable job explaining to the viewer what the state of pro cycling was at the time. They explained that Tyler and other other riders at the time are not evil people. Likewise I don’t believe Lance is as evil as some would like us to believe. Sure I think Lance doped when he beat Jan and Jan’s extra blood, but for me all the same reasons to forgive exist for Lance as the others except his failure to admit what happen. Soon that will change.

    The public may turn away from pro cycling forever or it may not. Baseball parks are still full in the U.S. despite the leagues complicity in open drug use and a still weak drug program.

    The problem is that sports champions should not be our heroes. When Bill Russell was dominant in the NBA he would refuse to give autographs to kids and tell them not to look at him as a hero but rather to look at their father. The media attacked him for the sentiment but it is a good one.

  9. David Hendry

    What a bunch of pathetic apologists. Get with reality. every sport you have been watching for the past 30 years has been furled by “DOPE”. Some of the time it was legal in that they had not yet banned a practice like the US cycling team at the Los Angeles games blood doping. Other times it was with stuff that they knew was against the rules but who cares. Pro sport is constantly trying to find an edge. Hold the guy in hockey football or basketball if you can get away with it. It’s only a foul if the ref calls it.
    The extreme training programs and absurd physical demands being placed on our top athletes mean that they must, absolutely must, participate in behaviors that are not good for them. Whether it is overuse injuries due to the training or ingestion of substances banned or otherwise that cannot be found in a normal food chain we want and pay for the 330 lb linemen who can run the 40 in 5 seconds. The 400 ft homers. The 9 second hundred yard dashes and the 40 km/hr average speed over mountains and countryside for 21 days. Can you seriously believe any normal human training programme can provide that level of exertion without life threatening practices.
    If you are paying for any pro stuff,if you are watching the gladiators in any pro sport, if you are buying a ticket for any pro event then you are perpetuating the practice of pushing as far and as dirty as you can get without getting caught. As such you are perpetuating the very doping you think is evil cause some talking heads tell you drug A is bad but drug B is ok.
    They are all “cheating” because that is what we teach every kid in every sport that gets to the traveling team rather than the house league. Do whatever you can to win as long as you don’t get caught. When you do get caught blame someone else and carry on as before.
    Meanwhile the billionaire owners and the millionaire players will be quite happy to take your money and pretend to clean up for just as long as you wish to spend the money and pretend to care about which supplements they are ingesting.

  10. spandelles

    Your perception of Hamilton as a tortured soul corresponds with mine. I too am still haunted by the deaths of Pantani and Jimenez, and we should listen to what the confessors of cycling have to say before it us too late.

    1. Author

      Everyone: Thanks for your passionate comments, both pro and con.

      David Hendry: Try to keep in mind one of the hallmarks of RKP is that we keep it civil in the comments. I appreciate your views, but please don’t insult your fellow readers.

      Marvo Larvo: Yes, I imagine that Hincapie is pretty pissed that his statements have been leaked. Who did it? It would seem likely that it came from someone in Novitzky’s camp. No one else really has the motivation.

  11. Big Mikey

    I am perplexed by the attacking of Tyler, Floyd, Manzano, etc. They are giving us eyewitness accounts of what goes/went on in the pro peleton and we still cast aspersions on their characters and refuse to believe. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to firmly believe that LA and nearly every other top cyclist doped…period.

    It must be incredibly hard for guys like Floyd and Tyler to see their careers and reputations absolutely ruined, and for doing what everyone else at that time was doing. Tyler is/was a gifted cyclist, doped or not, and it’s all gone b/c he was one of the unlucky ones who got caught in the testing.

    You’re right on, Padraig. We don’t have to like the guy or even find him admirable, but we do need to listen to him. They can’t all be wrong.

  12. Matt Walsh

    Tyler and Landis were both guys who couldn’t be Armstrong. Tyler was the nice guy boy scout and Landis the crazy contrarian but they both shared one thing: They couldn’t and never wanted to be Lance Armstrong. It was against their fundemental nature. And that is another thing that made them different from Armstrong — they could not endure the burden of lies. I fully believe that each is now telling the whole truth and everything but. I’m not a Lance hater. To me he is still an amazing athlete and inspirational person. But the truth has been out for a long time for anyone willing to accept reality over myth. I’m happy that Hamilton and Landis are at peace with their decision and hope that Lance can find a way to speak the truth.

  13. Chris

    I don’t want to get too far off track here, but has Livestrong really done much good? It seems to me it is just another cancer fighting organization that feeds the pharma industry and doesn’t spend any time actually going after what we know causes cancer: herbicides, pesticides, (monsanto is truly evil), aspartame, radiation, thousands of man made chemicals, etc… When will there actually be a cancer fighting organization that actually addresses the cause instead of feeding big pharma?

  14. MCH

    Ekimov says Tyler is lying. I understand the motivation, but really?!? Somehow, Ekimov has got credibilty in this story? Based on what we know of the system he came from I find this highly suspect, if not unbelievable. Personally, I’m waiting for the tide to turn where the deniers/supporters are seen to be dirty and those that speak up are seen as the heros.

  15. Alex Torres

    To me, doping is like cheating on your significant other: just like a guy will NEVER dump that hottie he´s seeing after-hours unless he´s caught on-act by his wife (and most of the time he won´t dump his wife either), I guess we´ll never see a guy on the top of his game come clean without being caught. Can someone immagine Contador calling a press conference to admit he took PEDs to win his GTs and give back his medals? I don´t think so.

    Even when they´re caught (cheaters and dopers), the instinct seems to be the same: deny, deny, deny. Untill something happens. Then call the laywers. It´s easy to take the weight off your back or “clear your conscience” once you´re at the bottom. It´s hard to let go the big life, the parties, the money, the women when you´re at the top. I´m not saying I think they´re the evil, but I don´t feel bad for not giving them much credit for their “new actions” either.

    So we´re left with a bunch of ex-dopers confessing everything in half-truths and confused stories, but only at the dawn of their careers OR when they fall from grace. Or when they want to bring someone else down to. And I´m yet to see any of them really, really helping with the fight against doping. It all seems to me like a very personal, individual, egocentric matter for most of them.

    I´m not complaining but that script leaves a bitter taste, regardless of what I may feel for this or that guy. If I was a cheated husband I could forgive my wife, we have a life and this and that. But I´m not married to any of these guys, so what do I do as a “cheated fan”? I just cheer for them, admire their athletic prowess (regardless of doping), like the style of some. All I can do when they´re caught, confessing or denying, is to move on and renew my hopes.

    It´s not that I don´t care, because I do. Actually, though it doesn´t change much things for me (I love cycling regardless), I care for the state of affairs in the sport. I´m a romantic and it does hurt to realize that doping has become bigger than pro cycling. It´s not cool, but it´s not hard to, feel suspicion every time someone like Contador attacks on a climb with 200km in his legs. That sucks. EPO really screwed things up for good. But we´ll survive.

  16. travis

    While I wholeheartedly agree that the sport of cycling needs an overhaul, I am realistic (and a bit pessimistic) about the chances of that happening. The thing that irks me about all of this, and forgive the soap box here, is that our government is spending tax money and valuable time worrying about if a cyclist doped and lied about it. I felt the same with the congressional hearings about steroids in baseball. Our beloved leaders spent more time that year discussing drugs in sport than they did on either of our conflicts abroad. As someone who has a lot of family serving or having served in our armed forces I find that criminal. Ok, thanks for the soap box leeway. Now back to riding my bike and enjoying all the insightful articles on RPK. Thanks for this sight and for all who comment.

  17. Pingback: Why Doping Matters (Part 2)

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