Tyler Hamilton speaks of his grief after his dog's death and admits he led to a drop-off in his focuPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Tyler Hamilton emerged from the Phonak team bus this morning in Saint Flour looking a little weary with life, but then he had just suffered a major bereavement. Tugboat, his beloved dog, had been put to sleep, back at his home in Girona, Spain. "We found out the night of the rest day what the situation was," he said. "There was cancer everywhere. So Haven drove up the next day with Tugboat. We spent the night together, then they drove back and he was put down yesterday." Given how much the Bostonian had valued the presence of his dog on last year's race, when he placed fourth overall despite a fractured collarbone, his grief was plain to see. "For me it was like losing a family member," he said. "I won't lie to you - I wasn't as concentrated yesterday as I'd normally be. But that's life. When you have emotions you have to follow your emotions. I definitely wasn't at my best yesterday." That distraction by events outside the bubble that is the Tour was evident on Wednesday's twisting uphill run-in to Saint Flour, where he ceded seven seconds to his rivals for overall victory, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong. "A lot of people probably won't understand but, for me, Tugboat was like my kid," said Hamilton. "I'd rather ride with two broken collarbones - a hundred times - than lose him. And the American rider was one of many surprised by the relative stalemate of the 2004 Tour's longest stage: "I was a little surprised that things didn't get more shaken up yesterday. Having seen the route in training, I thought there'd be more of a selection. I think a lot of people were watching each other, but," he added with a wry smile, "there's still plenty of time for the shit to go down."