Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Racing - Tyler Rocks

Photo by Zui Hanafusa (Note the two cams on his bars!)

I think that some people reading the blog may click the "X" to close the window when they see this Tyler thing. And I know that some of my friends are shaking their heads, wondering what Kool Aid I drank in the last few days.

Green, maybe?

No, that was the Lime Jell-O I had on my clear liquid diet day last week. Maybe that's what's been causing this whole Rock Racing re-think.

Along the theme of the Rock Racing re-think thing, I finally saw Tyler Hamilton race, post-all-his-stuff (I might have seen him race around here for CCB but honestly I don't remember, and I probably saw him race Philly 10 years ago but, yeah, I don't remember). Not a big deal, I suppose, as he wasn't in the Giro or the Tour when I saw him, but nonetheless, he pedaled past me a few dozen times.

I decided that, at least from what I could see, he's not a bad guy. I hollered his name, nothing unusual. I suppose I sounded just like some potentially drunk (I wasn't) fan yelling out a pro's name simply because he knew it (sort of). Regardless, he waved as he rode by. Not bad considering if he waved at everyone who yelled his name he would have done all of Harlem with one hand off his bars.

That wave sort of turned the page for me. I know, I know, blood doping, cheat, lying, yada yada yada.


I read an article today about some guy leaving jail. Dropped off at some house, he is looking at trying to become a productive citizen in the US, not someone leaching off the system in an unpleasant but predictable environment, the state prison system. He faces a huge uphill battle (rightly so - would you hire someone convicted and jailed for some crime?) and the article talks about some of the stuff he had to handle.

I suppose a big difference is that Tyler never admitted to anything, evidence notwithstanding. So it's normal I feel some ambiguity about yelling out his name at a race, and in fact I watched him ride by a number of time before I finally hollered.

It first started when some Rock Racing dude flatted early in the Philly race. Next time I saw him there were one or two guys there helping him get back on. And who was waiting for them, soft pedaling, coasting, letting the caravan of cars by?

Tyler Hamilton.

I decided at that point that I'd holler for him. That's because in the old days, Tyler wouldn't be this type of rider, dropping back to drag a rider back into the field.

Tyler, you see, he was the Star. Stars are called by their first name. Lance. Floyd. Tyler. Even non-Americans, like Stuey or Magnus or Axel. Okay, there are some last name stars, like Cipollini (Mario, not Ray), Contador (you know how many Albertos there are?).

The best go by either name. Eddy. Merckx.

Star. He raced with CSC, the juggernaut team, and was the undisputed leader there for many races. He won Classics and such. He got second in the Giro, with a broken shoulder. He got fourth in the Tour, with a broken collarbone. When he hurt his back in the Tour, I thought he would end up winning it.

But then that whole blood doping thing came up. And his career came crashing to a halt, quicker than the guy who won Harlem hit the deck (that there link is actually two separate links, up to "Harlem" and after "Harlem").

And he sort of faded from the scene.

Now he's back, part of the controversial, outspoken, brash, obnoxious, loudmouthed Rock Racing Team.

And he's...


Is that possible?

He rides like a super domestique. He doesn't go for the big break, the mountain top finishes, none of that. It seems he's taken on a "veteran adviser" role, one of maturity and experience. He guides the young'uns, takes massive pulls, and acts like the thumb in the proverbial dam when trying to hold back a surging pack, dragging along the field to keep things under control.

I think of Gilbert Duclos Lasalle when I think of Tyler's "new" riding style. Lemond said that Duclos Lasalle was worth two men, and he could pull at 40k an hour for 100k. That's some power there. Obviously that Gilbert was strong, he won Paris-Roubaix twice.

But fans loved him because he was an unselfish teammate, riding his heart out for others. We all love those guys, the Jens Voights, the Gian Matteo Faninis, the Fabio Sacchis, they're easy to admire because their work is so obviously selfless.

I thought at Philly that, well, maybe this Tyler thing was a fluke. Isn't he some nasty lying SOB? Then I went to Harlem, where he headlined the racers. Okay, some of the other guys might be more suited for the crit there but who else has been in contention in two of the three Grand Tours?

Right, exactly none of them.

So I watched Tyler circle around the course at Harlem. Thought of his work to bring back whoever that Rock Racing dude was at Philly. Then his work in the break at Philly. Then I watched him at Harlem. Patrolling the front. Flying the colors when it seemed okay to do so. And ramping up the pace with 10 to go to try and set up their sprinter dude.

What I find interesting is that he doesn't have that "fallen star" thing going on in the press. Interestingly enough, just like I didn't see very much quoted from, say, Johann Lammerts about Johann Lammerts (he mainly talked about his leader Greg Lemond), I haven't seen any quotes from him in the press, nothing. Okay, maybe in Tour of CA, in reams of press generated stuff, maybe there was a quote, but it got buried in the Cipollini and Michael Ball quotes, so I missed it.

So I wonder, what's happening with Tyler? What is his role at Rock Racing? Will he become a director (and then will Rock Racing be banned from races because of it?). Is he riding out what's left in his legs and his morale, trying to close a chapter before going on to the next stage in his life?

I don't know. But I think, after a number of years, with less conspicuous riding, less conspicuous results (both at the finish line and after it), that it's worth revisiting the whole Tyler question.

So, for now, if I'm at a race and Tyler is there, I'll holler his name.

And maybe he'll acknowledge it.


GMF said...

I don't know, Aki... Tyler was always the "nice guy" and the guy you wanted to win. He was soft spoken, not cocky, a guy from small town New England... I'm sure most of the cheaters are nice guys. Heck, who knows what us amateurs would do if we had that talent and were that close to being able to win the big ones? That doesn't eliminate the overwhelming evidence that Tyler cheated and has refused to fess up. How can you forgive someone that has not admitted to doing wrong? The lying part is almost worse than the cheating. Not just for us, but for their own consciences, as Greg LeMond advised Floyd back before his court case.
Regardless, I'd love to know what's going through Tyler's mind these days.

GMF said...

Oh - loved the Fagnini mention in the post :-)

Aki said...

heh. I actually woke up thinking I better not post this (I used the "schedule" feature and basically posted two posts at once, just dated the Tyler one for the day after). I woke up and it was too late.

I got private notes saying, essentially, wtf.

I guess I need to think things out. I think the lying is better than the cheating. We all speed (me included), for example, but if I deny ever speeding, well, it just makes me look a bit foolish.

But I guess the worst thing he could have done is just left the sport without trying to give back any of the good stuff he learned. And in this respect I think he's doing that. Selfless work, demonstrating to the new guys that "This is how it's done".

Okay, I don't know what else he's showing them "how it's done" but hopefully it's not significant.

I was thinking of putting a question mark after "Rocks" in the title but I decided not to. Maybe I should have.

Anonymous said...

Aki,was it worth the time to write about Tyler? Does Tyler need to be written about? Yes and no.
No because because of his actions in his past and the way he handled it, was not the way we expected him to handle it. He should have fessed up and taken it like a man much like David Millar did. If Tyler had done it Millar's way we would be thinking and writing about Tyler in a different way.
And yes. We want to remember Tyler as the local guy who went to local crits and RR who went on to Europe to take on the "pros".
If you saw Tyler in the early to mid 90's and then saw him after one year in Europe you knew he was different. He was more "cut", defined, hardened. Every one suspected long miles and hours in the saddle, and why would we think anything different. He is a New England guy, where hard work is rewarded. It is hard to comprehend that Tyler would take a short cut to the upper echelon. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't, but he never proclaimed his innocense which we all kind of expected him to do. For that we find him guilty.
Hopefully maybe we all get the chance to see this native son come back to race at Fitchburg, albeit with a little more squint to the eye and a bit more of an open mind. That he has already paid the price for any deed done, maybe we can all cheer his name one more time.

Brian said...

Good stuff, Aki.

Someone once said that "history is always changing" - or something to that effect. I think what that means here is that we want to forgive, forget and move on when someone has given us good reason. Has Tyler? I don't know, but it's good to know that we all want to believe in the good in people. At least I do.

Great perspective. Thanks for sharing.