Breaking away 

Former pro-cyclist Tyler Hamilton slows down in Missoula

Tyler Hamilton has spent the bulk of his life in the passing lane. As a teen, he competed in downhill ski racing events and joined the University of Colorado's ski team. Two broken vertebrae his sophomore year ended his competitive ski racing days, so he joined the UC Cycling Team to get back in shape. The decision launched a 14-year career that took him to the Tour de France and netted him a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games.

But life in the passing lane came with a dark side. Hamilton tested positive for doping twice in the latter years of his cycling career. He retired in 2009 and, following a phone call from a special agent with the Food and Drug Administration in June 2010, Hamilton decided to come clean. He's one of 11 former U.S. Postal Service cycling team members who testified before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency this year about the doping subculture among top Tour de France racers in the late '90s and early 2000stestimony that resulted in Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour medals early this week.

Now Hamilton is changing his pace. Part of the change involved moving from Boulder, Colo., to Missoula in May. Hamilton and his wife, Lindsay, call it a fresh start, a transition away from the controversy encapsulated in Hamilton's new book, The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France.

After years of passing anything that moved, Hamilton is tubing the Clark Fork, drinking local craft beer and prepping for his first ski season in Montana. He even drives slower now, he jokes on a recent Friday morning at Zootown Brew. "I don't have that competitive bone in my body anymore," he says.

That doesn't mean life's been easy the past few years. Ever since publicly admitting to his doping history before a federal grand jury in July 2010, Hamilton has taken heat from media, fans and fellow members of the peloton. He was one of the first pro cyclists to break a long-held code of silence on the doping culture. In The Secret Race, which is nominated for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, Hamilton describes key scenes of his and Armstrong's use of erythropoietin, or EPO, to boost endurance, as well as elaborate blood transfusions conducted prior to the 2000 Tour de France. The details read like mafia-style confessional, from Armstrong's habit of keeping EPO chilled in a thermos when traveling to cover-ups involving doping cyclists disposing of spent syringes in crushed Coca Cola cans.

"I'm really proud of writing the book, but I'm not proud of what's in the book," Hamilton says. "It's a sad story."

Hamilton and his wife briefly moved back to Boulder from Boston last year, but found it difficult to get away from the ongoing controversy. The couple scoped out Montana—Lindsay has family in the state, Hamilton used to race in college with Missoula Bicycle Works owner Alex Gallego—and, after one visit, "fell in love" with Missoula.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY “60 MINUTES”
  • Photo courtesy “60 Minutes”

Hamilton spent the bulk of his summer completing his book, which he co-authored with cycling journalist Daniel Coyle. In addition, he and Lindsay have continued to operate Tyler Hamilton Training, a coaching program for cyclists that Hamilton started shortly after his retirement from professional cycling in 2009. The company is still based out of Boulder, where head coach Jim Capra currently resides. But Hamilton works with athletes all over the globe, and he fills much of his days with Skype calls. The company's primary focus is amateur cyclists, Hamilton says, the "weekend warriors that have full-time jobs." Hamilton helps them customize a training regime based on everything from age to local altitude.

"We have one 13-year-old client and we have one 60-year-old client," Lindsay says. "We have some racers, we have the whole spectrum."

Whether the company will build a base in Missoula depends. Hamilton has preferred to let the operation grow organically. As the dust settles over the next few months, "We'd love to help out the [local] bike community in any way we can," Hamilton says. "Maybe help out with some free clinics for the kids...I've got a lot of experience, and I've got a lot to give."

Hamilton isn't in the habit of running from the darker chapters of his past, but he doesn't envy the position Armstrong and other former fellows from the peloton are in now. Those cyclists appear to be starting the same process Hamilton began years ago, Hamilton says, and while they have a lot to look forward to in potentially coming clean, it's a rough road—one Hamilton admits he played a key role in paving.

"I opened this can of worms with the story," he says. "Just to inform people of what really happened back then, it's my obligation."

As for the near future, Hamilton and his wife are looking forward to discovering exactly what a normal routine is in Missoula. They've already got their Snowbowl passes, and intend to hit the slopes as much as possible. Over coffee, the couple jokes that Hamilton was so relaxed last winter, he skied in jeans.

"Proving that you're better than somebody else for so long gets a little old," Hamilton says. "I'm over it."

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