As a longtime cycling fan, I cringe at every doping scandal. Blood doping has been rampant in cycling for a longtime, and numerous scandals have overshadowed some of the greatest races of the past decade or two. The heralded Lance Armstrong has continued to remain free from doping proof, with two very divided sides on his true innocence. Yet after so many dramatic wins in the wake of his successful battle with cancer, Lance is an American hero. Despite his recent comeback attempt, Lance was out of cycling for a while, and Americans clamored for a replacement.
The leading candidate was Tyler Hamilton, a tough rider who was Lance's teammate and on-course supporter in the Tour de France. Similar to the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) for cancer research (LIVESTRONG), Hamilton even created the Tyler Hamilton Foundation to help fight multiple sclerosis (MS). He was a gifted rider. He foughtthrough injuries. His toughness seemed to boost his stock as the next great American cyclist. He was a natural Lance 2.0, but he turned into the equivalent of, say, Lance "Vista".
Hamilton was dogged by reported blood doping failures, most notably in the 2004 Olympics, where he won the gold medal for individual time trial. The testing lab fouled up the second sample, so the first sample's failure could not be verified. Many feel he got away with a cheapened gold medal. They got more ammo in other races, where testing indicated he was attempting to manipulate his hematocrit levels, most likely by receiving blood transfusions or doping with erythropoietin (EPO).
He was suspended for two years in 2005 after the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after tests showed probable foreign blood in his own. He appealed the decision and came back with the infamous Chimera defense, in which his lawyers claimed Hamilton had a twin that died in the womb and was the source of the foreign EPO found. Hamilton later backed away from this defense.
His suspension was to end in late 2006, but that same year his name was linked along with many other cyclists to a Spanish doctor known to administer EPO to cyclists. He denied this connection, but media outlets across Europe published Hamilton's supposed doping diary.
His teammates and many in cycling always saw Hamilton as a stand-up guy, but the evidence was pretty overwhelming, although Hamilton never admitted to doping. Until now.
Recently, Hamilton tested positive for DHEA, which he admitted to taking in a dietary supplement touted for depression. He said he needed such a remedy after his mother died and he divorced his wife, both in a short period of time and while he was going through all the doping scandals. Upon admitting he knew the product contained a banned substance, he said he would retire from pro cycling, only having ridden a few races since the lifting of his two-year ban.
The irony is while a banned substance in pro cycling, DHEA is not an anabolic steroid, nor is it a performance-enhancing substance. This is an oft-mistaken stance by governing entities on a steroid hunt. So Hamilton finally admitted to doping, but with the most harmless substance of all that he was accused of taking. However, this is the end of a cobblestone road for this one-time Lance replacement. Meanwhile, Lance is poised for a comeback, should he outrace the dogged pursuit to label him a drug cheat (24 random drug tests and counting in the past six months.)