PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
The rumours prior to the Dodge Tour de Georgia that Tyler Hamilton may have lined up for this week's race came to nothing after the American was handed a two-year doping ban by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on Monday. Instead, Lance Armstrong was the talk of the town as the race's first stage rolled out of Augusta on Tuesday - the day after the six-time Tour de France champion announced his retirement after this summer's Tour.
While Armstrong was announcing his decision to the assembled press, Hamilton was hearing his fate. Armstrong will ride one more Tour, but Hamilton, 34, may already have ridden his last - a race which many thought he might one day win. Hamilton's ban was met with a measure of disdain within the cycling world, with one team manager professing himself "happy. It's good to catch the big fish once in a while to show the rest that they mean business".
"They" - the authorities, in this case USADA to whom Hamilton's case was referred by the International Cycling Union (UCI) - established an independent three-man arbitration panel from the American Arbitration Association (AAA) and the North American Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) who ruled two to one on Monday that Hamilton should be handed the UCI's minimum two-year ban for having tested positive as a first offence. The ban will be effective until April 17, 2007, and all Hamilton's results after September 11, 2004, will be annulled.
Hamilton first tested positive for a homologous blood transfusion in an 'A' sample taken at the Olympic Games in Athens in August 2004 - where the American won gold in the time trial - but an incorrectly stored 'B' sample meant that the correct procedure of being able to confirm, or otherwise, an initial positive result could not be followed. But it was positive 'A' and 'B' samples taken on September 11, 2004, at the Tour of Spain which the AAA/CAS panel was able to say were "due to a homologous blood transfusion" - injecting another person's red blood cells to increase oxygen intake.
"[The] UCI took the necessary action to protect the integrity of its sport," said USADA Chief Executive Officer Terry Madden. "This decision shows that sport is committed to protecting the rights of all clean athletes and that no athlete is above the rules." Hamilton, who was sacked by his Phonak team at the end of November, is thought to be preparing to appeal the verdict by again bringing into question the validity of the method of testing.