dopage and disappointment

Tyler Hamilton has apparently failed a couple doping tests: one just after winning gold in the Olympic time trial, and one just a few days ago after a time trial in the Vuelta D’Espana. The tests he failed are new to cycling: they test for blood doping, a strategy where an athlete gets an infusion of extra blood just before a race. More red blood cells increases endurance. Normally an athlete will stockpile his or her own blood for later transfusion, but apparently Tyler’s tests are showing that he has someone else’s blood mixed in with his own (a practice that’s kind of dangerous all on its own so its kind of curious if its true). Blood doping is illegal per UCI rules but up until this year there hasn’t been a test for it.

Tyler is, of course, denying the whole thing and the results of a followup test will come back in the next 48 hours. I’m trying to reserve judgement, but I admit I’m really shocked and disappointed by this news. I’ve been a fan of Tyler’s for some time now and I’ve talked about him on this blog before — mostly I am in awe of his seemingly inhuman ability to race well while incredibly injured (and because he seems to get injured a lot in the first place; I thought I was the only one who was that klutzy on a bike. 🙂 If the doping tests are true, for me it casts serious doubt on all Tyler’s accomplishments, not just the olympics and the Vuelta but all the races in which he’s been doing so well over the last few years. What has he been taking? What advantages has he had over other riders? Why did he feel he had to cheat to win?

And in addition, there are bigger questions for cycling. Tyler has never failed a doping test up to this point. A few months ago David Millar was found with EPO (another red blood cell enhancing drug) in his apartment, and confessed to having taken the drug. Millar had also never failed a drug test. If these top athletes have gone this long and been testing clean, but NOW are being found out, who else is dirty? What else is out there? Just how corrupt is pro cycling?

Many questions. I’m waiting for that second test.