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Truth Wins: The Story of Lance Armstrong’s Former Teammate, Tyler Hamilton

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 6, 2023 3:01 am

Truth Wins: The Story of Lance Armstrong’s Former Teammate, Tyler Hamilton

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 6, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton rocked the world of professional cycling—and exposed the doping culture surrounding the sport and its most iconic rider, Lance Armstrong. As one of the world’s top-ranked cyclists—and a member of Lance Armstrong’s inner circle, Hamilton has quite an amazing story and is here to share it with us. 

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Happy streaming. And we continue with our American stories. Former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton rocked the world of professional cycling and exposed the doping culture surrounding the sport and its most iconic rider, Lance Armstrong. As one of the world's top ranked cyclists and a member of Lance Armstrong's inner circle, Hamilton has quite an amazing story of his own and is here to share it with us.

Let's take a listen. My name is Tyler Hamilton. I live here in Missoula, Montana. Grew up in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Great family.

Older brother, older sister. Loved the outdoors and loved to spend time out in nature. First, it was my love for skiing that kind of got me excited being outdoors and became a ski racer. After an accident with the University of Colorado ski team, I broke my back and then started my cycling career kind of by accident.

It happened fast. I was a bit of a late bloomer in cycling, but, you know, I've always had like a high pain threshold. I think I was born born with it.

I don't know. My parents are tough. My grandparents were tough. And so I think that was the biggest asset that I had as a as a bike racer.

Just, you know, that never give up mentality and just, you know, don't listen to the pain. Growing up in Marblehead, Massachusetts in the 70s was pretty awesome. I was born in 71. Yeah, I mean, my parents didn't really put many demands on my brother or sister at all, you know. I mean, they liked us trying to do well in school and working hard and they liked us competing in sports if we were interested in it. But whether or not we were successful in sports, it didn't matter. It didn't matter. You know, the most important thing for them was, you know, being honest, being a good sport and just being, you know, transparent. My dad said if we did have a family crest, we'd probably be, you know, honesty. And yeah, I got in trouble here and there, but it was I got in a lot of trouble when I was dishonest.

A lot of trouble. It was really exciting to get my first pro contract. I signed it in, what, the fall of 1994. It was the original postal team. It was under a different title sponsor then, but it was the original U.S. Postal team. And it was under the sponsor of Montgomery Bell.

The next year, 1996, it became the U.S. Postal team. I thought I had no business, you know, racing professionally, but obviously people believed in me. And I got a call from Tom Weisel, the head of Montgomery Securities and the leader of the team. Yeah, he offered me a contract.

I think it was thirty thousand dollars back then. And at the time when he made the phone call, I was painting my neighbor's house to make extra money to just make ends meet. And I thought it was just going to be, you know, one year, maybe two years of doing this. And then I had to finish up college and get a real job and do the nine to five thing. But next thing I know, I'm on the start line in the Tour de France, which I thought was way beyond anything that I could possibly do. Fast forward two years from there, we're trying to win the Tour de France. And that was with Lance Armstrong. That was in 99. But yeah, I mean, we were kind of the bad news bears of cycling in the early years, 97, 98. Even 99 when Lance won. You know, we were a small budget team. Most teams have big bus, big, shiny buses.

We had like two rented little campers. We'd stuff all nine riders into both of those and staff members and won again in 2000, won again in 2001 with Lance. And then at that point, I was I felt like I could see myself in the same role. I could look back three years and look ahead three years and see myself doing the same exact thing, which was being like a domestique, a workhorse for Lance in the tour.

So it wasn't a bad thing, but I was sure that if I stayed in that role, I would definitely regret it someday and regret the chance of going off and maybe trying for myself, seeing what I could do. You know, the doping in the sport of cycling, I mean, I remember hearing about it back in probably like 1994 when I was in the U.S. national team. And then first year pro in 1995, I remember hearing a little bit about it. But every once in a while, you read like a small blurb and it was like doping was happening over in Europe. You know, it wasn't happening stateside, but I didn't really realize it until I got to the highest ranks in 1997 when we did the Tour de France for the first time. And that's kind of when I kind of gave into it. A team doctor came into my room for a few months into the season.

We just finished a really difficult five or six day stage race in southern Spain. I was just like a starfish on the bed, laying on the bed. And the team doctor walked in and told me like how proud he was of me, but that I had to start taking care of my body. And, you know, that's when it happened. He was wearing this black fish and vest and pulled out a little red egg shaped capsule.

He told me what it was and he told me that it was testosterone and what I needed to do. Yeah, so that's how it started. I didn't want to be I didn't want to participate in any of that. But I feel like at that level, that was it was either say yes to it. And at that point, I knew a lot of my teammates were doping.

It was a hard decision, but I made the decision really quick. And then I thought about the consequences of it, like almost daily. It was also like he was inviting me into the onto like the A team, basically, you know, it was like the team within the team. Like before that, I felt like I was on the B team just trying to prove myself. And then all of a sudden, I think the team saw that I was talented enough. They believed in me enough so that I was hungry enough. And that's when I kind of got invited onto the whatever you could call it.

We didn't have an A and B team, but hypothetical A team. And and that was a couple of months away from riding my first tour de France. And so that's, you know, I was like, OK, I'm being invited onto this team.

I need to, even though I know it's wrong, I need to take this opportunity. So so it started with the red egg testosterone. And then I don't know if a month later, my first injection of EPO, which raises your red blood cell count. But you really wouldn't feel it. You really wouldn't feel anything.

It was just a small little prick under your skin. But if you did it consistently, you know, a few times a week over three, four weeks, eventually you'd feel a little bit of a difference. You know, going uphill felt a little bit more comfortable riding a little bit faster at the same heart rate. Yeah, you could feel the difference. I mean, out of all the things I did, that was the biggest game changer.

100 percent EPO. Yeah, I mean, within cycling, it was a bit of an arms race. I mean, doping was prevalent at first. I didn't really know how prevalent it was. And then I quickly realized it wasn't just myself and a few of my teammates on postal. It was every team was doing it. It was rampant. And, you know, riders are changing teams on a yearly basis.

Directors change teams, team doctors change teams. So like in general, the secrets were out when I first started doping in 1997. I mean, the teams would travel with it to the races, divvy it up to riders and then send them a home with it in a little like care package. So it was very open Wild West days.

They weren't worried about getting caught. You know, and then things came like kind of cracking down what in the 98 season, that's when they had the Festina affair. They caught it French team. I think it was at the Belgian border crossing over. And it was one of the staff members had a carload of performance enhancing drugs.

Last night, Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director general of the Tour de France, issued a statement saying that Team Festina, the number one team in the world, has been removed from this year's tour. Now, this comes on the heels of an admission by the lawyer for Bruno Roussel, the team manager, that there was a doping plan in place for the use of performance enhancing drugs under strict medical supervision. And that's when riders went to jail. People came up, became a lot more secretive. People just seemed like they just became a lot more worried. The EPO test came out and the team doctors quickly figured out how to beat it and how to still take EPO without getting caught.

And that meant like kind of smaller type doses and maybe a little bit more consistently. Yeah. And then under the skin, it goes through your body, clears through your body quicker.

If it was in the vein instead of under the skin. Yeah. All these little tricks that didn't like most cyclists wouldn't know this, but all the doctors knew and they knew how to beat the test. So like before you even thought about it, there was handing you a cheat sheet, basically. And you're listening to Tyler Hamilton tell a heck of a story about his life in cycling, his family and so much more, including how doping came to be and how it became just a part of cycling life. I love what he said about his parents and their motto, the family crest. Be honest. I got in the most trouble when I wasn't honest. More of Tyler Hamilton's story, his book, The Secret Race Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France.

Doping, cover ups and winning at all costs. The story continues here on Our American Stories. Download the Roto app today. That's R-O-D-O.

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Happy streaming. And we continue with Our American Stories and former Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton's story. Let's pick up where we last left off. There were a few times during my career when I knew I wasn't clear to take a test. And when they had out of competition anti-doping tests, that's when things became a lot more difficult. One time I remember I was back home in my hometown of Marblehead and my wife and I at the time got a knock on the door. It was a pretty loud knock and it sounded like the knock you didn't want to hear. Instead of opening that door we just hit the deck, stayed low and stayed quiet and basically avoided a test.

At the time I think you were able to have two missed tests before you got in trouble. Being a teammate with Lance was, I mean I would say it was a challenge. He was the boss, he was the unofficial boss of the team. He had more power than even our director for sure.

So yeah, I mean that came with consequences. It was like he was the boss and he laughed at his jokes. You know, you never talked over him. And you tried to sympathize with him when he was having a bad day or when things weren't going great.

It was stressful because you kind of always had to be in your toes. And when you weren't, and you maybe were like in his eyes a little bit disrespectful or weren't paying enough attention, things happened sometimes and it wasn't always the funnest. But yeah, he also brought a lot of energy to the team. He had tons of energy for sure. He was always making up funny things. He liked to call a lot of people out, with the exception of himself maybe. But he called a lot of people out and sometimes that was fun but a lot of times it wasn't. You know, just bullying, you know, if a rider went too fast it was not normal.

Pondermal as they would say, not normal. You know, but yeah, I mean we were all riding too fast at times. Eventually my career, yeah, I believe it was in 2002, 2003, I worked with a doctor by the name of Ufe Manafuentes. We called him Ufe. He was basically my blood doping doctor.

He'd extract blood, store it for you, like a lot of other cyclists and athletes, and then reinfuse it back into you when your body was depleted. So we'd usually text back and forth. Rarely would we talk to each other on the phone. But we definitely spoke in code a lot. So, you know, to give a blood bag you're going to give a present. Sometimes I have a present to give to you, maybe say that in a text message. And I do remember this one time I texted him, like, hey, Ufe, I need to give you a bike. Meaning a bag of blood, basically. And he took that, literally took that and said, oh, so great, I need a new bike.

Yeah, I kind of got myself into a little bit of a pigeon hole. But you know what, I had an extra training bike. I believe it was a Cervelo.

Yeah, that made its way to Ufe Manafuentes. After that I didn't promise him anything else, didn't want to say I'm going to give you a car. So yeah, I mean, I've had all sorts of problems with my teeth due to me grinding them down during my career, during painful moments. The first big accident I had where I started grinding severely was in the 2002 Giro d'Italia, bombing down a descent and the pins on my cassette on the back wheel snapped off.

It's basically the same effect as, like, breaking your chain. So I was sprinting out of a corner and that happened and I went flying over my handlebars, landed on my shoulder, and I didn't find out until the day after the race ended, you know, two and a half weeks later, that I broke basically the top of my arm in my shoulder socket. So yeah, I spent the rest of the race in a ton of pain, whether I was on my bike or off the bike or even sleeping, I was grinding my teeth, constantly grinding, grinding, grinding. The same thing happened the next year in the 2003 Tour de France. I crashed on stage one in a mass crash and broke my collarbone, continued in the race, did the same thing, ground my teeth the whole way. I finished fourth overall and won a stage that offseason. I went to see the dentist and yeah, then I had to have my whole mouth reconstructed, all caps on every tooth.

So it's been a process and actually in about an hour I got to go to the dentist to get a new cap replacement, so. Sometimes people say, was it worth it to keep going? You know, I got a lot of, a lot of people praise me for keeping going in the Tour de France in 2003 and it seemed like I got a lot of attention back in the United States and I didn't really realize it until I got back to my hometown of Mirellet, Massachusetts and they had like a huge parade for me and a couple thousand people came out and they gave me the key to the town. Yeah, you know, from the outside it looked really glamorous and, you know, how lucky for me but, you know, on the inside I was really struggling and there I was having to like smile and, you know, speak in front of, you know, thousands of people there in my hometown.

Probably a month later I was diagnosed with depression at the, really at that peak of my career. So I had this relationship with this deviant doctor, Oufimiano Fuentes, he, it was the 2004 Tour de France, you know, he texts back and forth, arranged the meeting where he's going to drop off a blood bag and I'm going to infuse a, you know, a bag of my blood that I'd, you know, given to him maybe a month or two before. And they came to my hotel room, I got the blood infusion and then probably about an hour later I started feeling kind of hot, feverish and then I went to the bathroom and I went to, I looked down and my urine was like black, like filled with like dead red blood cells, so that was kind of a scary moment for me, you know, I didn't know, I didn't know what was, I figured right away like, oh, it was, they gave me a, my blood bag had gone bad, it probably had gotten too warm or it had been affected and, you know, the blood cells had died and then it was reinfused into me so it was, I mean I was lucky I didn't die really and I continued on the race but it was, it was definitely an eye opening moment, like, you know, the system we were in was certainly not perfect.

You know, another time I was, after I basically gave a bag of blood I was rushing out of the Madrid airport where Uffiano Fuentes lived and I was heading back to my home in Girona, Spain and I was really rushed to catch a flight and I donated a bag of blood, it's a big needle that they put in and then, you know, I quickly held pressure on my arm for a few seconds but then I had to go, I had to go to catch my flight and so I ran out to the street, was hailing a cab with one arm and then I looked down and saw the arm that had just, you know, given the blood, like, it was, my sleeve was completely red so, you know, the hole from the extraction needle hadn't closed but there I was, you know, like, you know, on a busy street in Madrid, you know, in one hand I'm like holding a cell phone with like code names and numbers, the other hand's covered in blood and, you know, it was another moment where I'm like what am I doing, this is crazy, this is crazy. And you're listening to Tyler Hamilton tell one heck of a story. The secret race inside the hidden world of the Tour de France, doping, cover-ups and winning at all costs.

It's available at Amazon and all the usual suspects. My goodness, the life of living with these anti-doping tests, the regimes that got set up, the protocols, the daily practices, that knock on the door at home with his wife where he just ducked for cover. And of course what it was like to work for someone who would drive you to this the way Lance Armstrong did and the way everybody did, frankly, can't blame Lance for the anti-doping machine, you can blame the industry itself. And then of course that recirculation of his own blood and calling the bags bikes. He had secret code words and then blood infusions and it's so bizarre, so bizarre. And one day he wakes up and he's wondering how did I get into this? And by the way, it's happened to all of us at some point in our life, more than likely something you didn't want to do, you ended up doing.

When we come back, more of the story of Tyler Hamilton, former Olympic gold medalist, here on Our American Stories. That means the best price personalized to you with no haggling, then complete your lease right from your phone. The best part? Your new car is delivered right to your door. Download the Roto app today. That's R-O-D-O.

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eBayMotors.com. Let's Ride. Eligible items only. Exclusions apply. And we continue with our American stories and former Olympic gold medalist and teammate of Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton. Let's pick up where we last left off. So let's see, 2004, September 2004, I was in the middle of the Tour of Spain, another three-week, they call it Grand Tours, and had a positive doping test. My life quickly spiraled downward very fast and, you know, kicked off the team. Really, the cycling world turned their back to me and, yeah, I went through, yeah, I went through divorce, went through just hard, hard, hard times.

You know, the heavy blanket, I felt like I had a heavy blanket on me almost at all times, yeah. Tried to make a comeback and that was, you know, my name was now black. I wasn't welcomed back to the peloton. Most teams didn't want me.

Riders who I know 100 percent that doped, you know, wouldn't even talk to me. What got me out of the doldrums was telling the truth. And that was like day one of, like, my new life. I received a subpoena to come in and answer questions about the U.S. Postal Service cycling team and Lance Armstrong in front of a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

It was in, I believe, 2010. Very few people knew the truth and there I was in front of, I don't know, 12 jury members. I stood there for, like, seven hours and told the truth. When I got out of that courtroom, I knew from that moment on, like, the truth was my way forward. So it felt so good to tell the truth, you know, from the very beginning to the very end. And that's kind of where it started for me. Like, when I exited that court, I walked outside and I felt like I had just shed, like, 100 pounds. 100-pound backpack gone. Just felt free.

Not completely free. I knew there was a lot of work to be done, but I was like, all right, this was, you know, day one of the rest of my life. So, yeah, what was it? 2011. It was in the middle of this federal investigation. They were investigating the U.S. Postal Service cycling team and they were also investigating Lance Armstrong. I was living in Boulder, Colorado at the time and I was invited to do a charity event up in Aspen. So my colleague Jim Capra and I drove up there together and on our way up, I do remember him, like, hey, I'm going to just – because he knew Lance lived up there and there was a big federal investigation going on and we didn't need to cross paths. So he – I think he Googled where Lance was and it turns out he was on a charity ride on the East Coast. So it was great.

Okay, we're, you know, smooth sailing. So that night, we're out at dinner with a group of people, maybe 12 people. You know, I got up to use the restroom and I had to walk through, like, a dimly lit bar area.

So on my return from the restroom, just out of nowhere, like, a hand just reaches out and stops me in my tracks and I look over and boom, there's Lance Armstrong. Nostrils flaring, you know. You can only flare your nostrils really if you're angry.

It's hard to do it, just fake it. So I knew he was pissed. He got right in my face, he had this little posse around him and, yeah, he told me he was going to make my life a living hell both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom. So, you know, that's called witness intimidation. You know, I told him, hey, let's go speak outside one-on-one instead of, you know, let's leave your posse here or let me go grab some of my friends and, you know, make this even. But he didn't want anything to do with it. I asked him also, you know, like, a quiet room to speak.

He didn't want to do that either, but he just kind of chastised me in front of his gang. So, yeah, I mean, I straightaway had to let the federal investigators know, you know. But, you know, unfortunately the videotape in the restaurant, Cash Cash, got deleted or was broken somehow. So none of that really went anywhere. But, yeah, that was the truth. That's what happened. You know, I'm sure today Lance probably thought he found out from the owner of the restaurant that I was there and, like, he came, he flew back from the East Coast and came straight in and, you know, approached me. So, you know, I'm sure today he regrets that.

I would think so. But, yeah, that wasn't one of his best days. Yeah, it was a weird time.

I was living in Boulder then and, I mean, I had baseball bats at every doorway. People had their eyes on me. And that was confirmed by the FBI.

Soon thereafter I got an invitation to speak with 60 Minutes. And that was, you know, everything I said in front of the grand jury was sealed. So the only way, like, that information would go to the public is if the case continued. And I knew most likely it was going to get shut down just due to, like, who they were investigating.

You know, there's a lot of power there. And it did get shut down. But I knew the truth. I had to be open and honest. So still the public didn't know the truth. And so, yeah, I chose to speak to 60 Minutes and they gave me, like, a double segment.

So, like, almost 40 minutes worth. That was really my first time telling the whole truth, or part of the truth to the world or anyone who's listening. That's the first time my parents kind of heard the whole truth.

You know, I gave them a warning the day before it aired on 60 Minutes. That was the first time I told my parents the truth. So, yeah, I sat my parents down, my brother and my sister, and told them pretty much the whole truth. From the very beginning to the very end, you know, it was brutal. You know, that was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. But, yeah, they forgave me and, you know, they understand that people make mistakes.

You know, my dad tells me today that he's more proud of me, you know, for what I've done off the bike than on the bike. That still wasn't enough. It was, you know, with commercials and all that, it's like maybe 30, 35 minutes of the truth. But there was a lot of the truth that I still hadn't told. So that's when I decided to write a book. So I luckily had a great co-writer by the name of Dan Coyle. We spent almost two and a half years writing a book together. One of the hardest things I've ever done, but, like, one of the proudest, you know, I'm really proud of doing that. It was almost like therapy, really. So, yeah, The Secret Race, I wrote a book back in 2012.

I won the World War, the Sport Book Awards. Yeah, I was very surprised. And, man, straight away there was so much forgiveness, almost too much.

Because I went from being the black sheep to, like, maybe praise a little bit too much. So I struggled with that, too, which is kind of weird if you think about it. But I just felt a lot lighter, and I did feel really bad for Lance. I know he had a lot of deep, dark secrets. I knew he was going to fight to the very end to, you know, keep those secrets from not coming out. And, yeah, I felt sympathy for him.

He was backed up into a real deep hole, you know, or to the edge of the cliff. And it was, like, either tell the truth or jump. And I'm glad he told the truth, you know. What he did on Oprah I thought was great. Not everyone loved it, but I thought those first, like, ten questions, the yes-no questions on Oprah when he admitted to his PED use, like, I thought that was great. You know, sure, people wanted to hear more details, and we didn't get a lot of that. But, you know, the big questions were answered. And, you know, he doped for a lot of his career, you know, like a lot of us. And I honestly think I'm sure he's a better person today because of it all, yeah.

I'm certain. Life's changed a lot for me. I'm newly married again, got married in December. Two beautiful stepchildren. And then I have my own son about eight months ago, so it's been a really great experience. I love being a dad and a stepdad. Let's see, I work for a money manager down in Boulder, Colorado, so I love helping people.

You know, helping people manage their money in a better way so you get a lot of positive feedback and it makes you feel good, for sure. My wife knows, she knows about my past, obviously. And, you know, I've told our two stepchildren, one's ten and one's eight. You know, they know my past.

And one's eight months, you know, maybe a few more years for that. But people need to hear the story, like how things get a little blurry when you set your mind on a goal and like, but don't get off track. And I got off track.

And you got to be honest about it and you got to tell the younger generation, make sure that, you know, they don't make a mistake like you did. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Tyler Hamilton. His book, The Secret Race, inside the hidden world of the Tour de France. Doping, cover-ups, and winning at all costs.

Go to Amazon for the usual suspects and pick up the book. And there he was on that day of the positive doping test. My life spiraled down fast. Kicked off the team, divorced, and I felt like I had a heavy blanket on me. And then came that day where he told the truth. The truth was my way forward.

It felt like I had shed a hundred pound backpack. And then I can just picture that meeting with Lance Armstrong and the fury he had as this one person was going to blow the cover on everything. And now, of course, Tyler's married. He's a money manager. And just admitting that life can get blurry when you set a goal. I got off track. Boy, that's any of us.

The story of Tyler Hamilton, the story of the pursuit of success, and of course the excesses we can commit when doing that here on Our American Stories. With so many streaming devices out there today, what sets Roku apart? Roku players are made for one thing, to get you the entertainment you want quick and easy. That means a simple home screen with your favorites front and center, channels like iHeartRadio that launch in a snap, and curated selections of TV for when you only sort of know what to watch. Not to mention all the free TV you can stream, including over 300 free live channels on the Roku channel. Find the perfect Roku player for you today at Roku.com.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-07 02:20:30 / 2023-03-07 02:34:50 / 14

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