Phonak have announced that they sacked Tyler Hamilton five days ago in the hope of gaining entry intPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Following this morning's news that Phonak had not been selected for next season's ProTour by the International Cycling Union's licensing commission, the Swiss team has announced that it secretly sacked team leader Tyler Hamilton on November 25. According to the UCI, Phonak company chief Andy Rihs informed them of the decision last week, but Hamilton's dismissal did not help to overturn the commission's initial decision announced on November 12 not to grant Phonak a ProTour licence. Hamilton had already been suspended by his team following a positive test for blood doping at the Vuelta in September. Although the Hamilton case has taken most of the headlines in recent weeks, the UCI has been more concerned with abnormal blood levels recorded by a number of Phonak riders throughout the past season than with just this one issue. The UCI was so concerned about these readings that it launched an inquiry into Phonak's stance with regard to anti-doping procedures. As this inquiry continued, relations between Phonak and the UCI became more difficult when the Swiss team initially backed Hamilton's challenge to the validity of the UCI-approved blood doping test. Ultimately, the UCI was reported to have been pushing for the replacement of Phonak's whole management structure before it would consider allowing the team into the ProTour. Although Hamilton has been sacked, Phonak's management currently remains unchanged. According to Phonak's legal representative who led the appeal against Phonak's non-admission to the ProTour, the five scientific experts appointed by the team to investigate the blood doping test have not been able to reach a unanimous conclusion on the validity of the blood doping test. The experts were split two for and two against the validity of the tests carried out on Hamilton and team-mate Santiago Perez, who tested positive for blood doping after the Vuelta. The fifth expert registered insignificant anomalies in the test. In a statement posted on Phonak's website on Tuesday afternoon, Hamilton announced his departure from the team. His statement reads as follows: "As of November 25, 2004 I am no longer a member of the Phonak Professional Cycling Team based in Switzerland. After many discussions with team management, we concluded together that it would not be possible for the team to continue at the level we hoped with my name on the roster. Specifically, it would be impossible for Phonak to be accepted into the UCI ProTour with one of its riders facing charges of using prohibited performance enhancing methods. We had hoped my facing the judicial process alone, apart from the team, would pave the way for Phonak being included in the ProTour. Knowing that the Phonak cycling team has done everything it could to meet the demands required by the UCI to be accepted into the ProTour, we were very disappointed to learn today that the team would not be included after all. I jointed the Phonak Cycling Team in 2004 with high hopes of building one of the best teams in cycling. Together we accomplished a number of goals, namely being invited to the Tour de France in July. While at Phonak, I played a large role in bringing in various sponsors, riders and staff. It is out of loyalty to them and the remaining riders and staff that I accepted the premature termination of my contract which was due to expire at the end of the 2005 season. By stepping aside, I had hoped to see the Phonak Team accepted into the ProTour. I also hoped to see the team carry out the long-term plans we put in place last January. While I was saddened to have to part company with a group of people I care for so deeply, it seemed this was the only way to keep the team operating and able to compete at the highest level of the sport of cycling. It is my hope they will still be able to accomplish this goal. I am very sad the challenges I face personally have had such a wide-ranging impact on so many. This ordeal now affects the Phonak riders, staff, sponsors and their families. On a personal level, and on behalf of everyone involved, I am more committed than ever to getting to the bottom of all this. I want to express my complete and overwhelming appreciation to Andy Rihs and the team management of Phonak for standing beside me as long as they could. Their support has been unprecedented and I am very grateful for everything they have done for me to date. This said, I am looking forward to the judicial process in my case and having the opportunity to prove my innocence. It is my sincere hope that once I am exonerated I can rejoin the professional peloton and the sport I love."