The hubub of Battenkill was enough to drown out a small piece of big news -- Tyler Hamilton's retirement from cycling due to a second positive doping test. The rumors that he tested positive at or before ToC turned out to be true after all, and the immediate reaction was exactly what you'd expect: what an asshole.
Of course, it's more complicated than that. This time around, he admitted his guilt and claimed the banned steriod (DHEA) he tested positive for came from his anti-depression medication, that he knowingly took this winter. In his words:
"What I did was wrong and yes, I did know it [DHEA] was on the list of banned substances. I also knew that USADA could have shown up any day and at any time to test me. But, I was going through a very rough moment and I was desperate. I heard about it and I thought I would try it out as an act of desperation"
Backing up his story is this quote from cyclingnews:
"There is no scientific evidence or basis for this steroid to be a performance enhancer," said Scott. "It is fair to suggest that the probability of DHEA having a performance effect on anyone, at any amount taken is inconceivable. There is no good reason to take DHEA, this is a very foolish drug to take because it is readily detectable, but it has no performance enhancements."
So, it appears that Hamilton will end up being banned (possibly for life) for taking a performance enhancer that doesn't actually enhance performance, but might mitigate depression. Tough break. Before you feel too bad for him, remember that he has a 2004 Olympic Time Trial Gold Medal at home, thanks to a botched B sample test -- so he's caught a few breaks of his own.
The most common response from the cycling community has been "good riddance," and it's hard to blame them -- Tyler's presence, with or without a second positive test, was a reminder of just how dirty professional cycling was just five years ago, and a question about how dirty it may still be.
And that's the real issue here. It's easy to say "Fuck Tyler Hamilton," because it focuses your anger on a person. It's easy to hate people, much easier than a complicated, organic, and faceless "system" -- and it makes total sense, as long as Tyler was one of the rare cheaters in the pro peloton. A pro peloton that didn't even have a test for EPO until 2000, a test for homologous blood doping until 2004, and still doesn't have a test for HGH.
Let's consider a scenario: you're a phenomenally talented young bike racer in the United States. Maybe your last name is Armstrong or Hamilton -- or maybe Keough or Mannion. Your dream, as long as you've ridden a bike, is to race on the road in Europe -- and you might just be good enough to do it.
After spending a decade of your life working toward this dream, making bike racing your career, you finally make it to the big leagues and find out that everyone is cheating. Luckily, the team doctor will help you cheat too, and since everyone else is doing it -- you're really just leveling the playing field.
Or, you can quit the sport you love and give up every athletic dream you've ever had, and go back home with nothing but your integrity to show for the first twenty years of your life.
Don't forget that you'll never be able to tell anyone why you came back, unless you want to betray every other professional cyclist out there, aka "your entire social network."
So what would you do?
Fuck Tyler, indeed.