Cycling: Hamilton defies injuries to triumph on tough climbs

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The Independent Online

Tyler Hamilton's preference for using his left hand rather than his right to press the flesh with the local dignitaries on the podium was perhaps the only real indication of the injuries beneath his jersey.

Having broken his collarbone on the first stage of the 2003 Tour but then battled his way through the Alps and Pyrenees, the Massachusetts-born rider carried his defiance of medical wisdom to even greater lengths yesterday with a 145-kilometre break, the last 100 alone, over some of the toughest climbs of the entire three weeks.

Hamilton is a former team-mate and still a close friend of Lance Armstrong, and the Texan was among the first to give him a hug afterwards, enthusing that "this is the greatest day of the Tour. To hold off three teams chasing and keep them at five minutes almost all the way to the finish the way Tyler did, that was something special."

Hamilton, quiet and courteous, and unusual in the peloton for thanking journalists for interviewing him, admitted that the strain of the double fracture was beginning to tell. "I'd got dropped early on today and almost all my team-mates had to wait for me," he said. "This was a good way of paying them back for their effort."

In a typical Hamilton gesture, he then apologised to his squad "for my big mistake". Hamilton's anger at being dropped had led him to take big risks: it spurred him to attack on the Col de Soudet, a 13km mist-enshrouded climb in the western Pyrenees, and bridge across to an attacking group of 10, and again half an hour later on the next, the Bargaguy, to take off alone.

This long-range attack was almost exactly what Britain's David Millar, classified as the regionale - local rider - of the stage by the French media because he lives in nearby Biarritz, had tried and failed to do in the opening skirmishes of the stage.

Clearly recovering from the bronchitis which had laid him low before Tuesday's rest day, the Scot had also made his way to the front group before being poleaxed by a short but viciously steep climb mid-way through the stage. He eventually finished sixth last.

"This wasn't how I wanted to come home," he said. "My dad's flown in from Hong Kong, my mum's here as well and I played my cards early on. Finishing so far back wasn't part of the plan."

While Millar's knowledge of the climbs led him to over-estimate his strength, Hamilton was not totally unfamiliar with the route. After taking second in the Tour of the Basque Country in the spring, the American carried out a lone reconnaissance the next day, riding the 197km stage in torrential rainfall.

"That helped," he said. "I knew what was coming." While the chasing group behind was gradually enveloped by the peloton on the interminable series of tiny hills before the finish in Bayonne, Hamilton was somehow able to maintain his advantage.

A former economics student at the University of Colorado, Hamilton was anything but calculating in his effort to finish alone. In his favour was an ability to resist pain that even before this race was legendary. In the 2002 Giro, in which he finished second, Hamilton ground away 11 teeth as he struggled against a broken shoulder blade.

Yesterday, as the stage wound along the banks of the River Adour in the Bayonne suburbs, his shoulders were beginning to sag, but as he turned into the last tiny climb to the finish, he gestured to his team chief, Bjarne Riis, in the team car to move forwards for a quick hand-clasp in celebration of CSC's third Tour stage win.

Hamilton's win has also all but resolved a key secondary classification, the team prize for CSC, as well as propelling him into sixth place overall. Given the relative time-trialling weakness of the Basque rider, Iban Mayo, in fifth, a top-five place is no longer out of the question.

Such a performance also begs the question as to whether Hamilton would have been able, minus his injury, to take on Armstrong as well, but he sidestepped the question. "I was kind of disappointed with my Tour up until now, but today's result makes up for it all." Hamilton said. "Now I can go home content."

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly.


STAGE 16 (Pau to Bayonne, 197.5km, 123.4 miles): 1 T Hamilton (US) Team CSC 4hr 59min 41sec; 2 E Zabel (Ger) Telekom 1min 55sec; 3 Y Krivtsov (Ukr) Jean Delatour; 4 L Paolini (It) Quick Step; 5 G Glomser (Aut) Saeco; 6 B de Groot (Neth) Rabobank; 7 M Zberg (Swit) Gerolsteiner; 8 S Casar (Fr); 9 F Guidi (It) Team Bianchi; 10 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole all same time. Selected: 17 J Ullrich (Ger) Bianchi; 24 L Armstrong (US) US Postal Service all s/t;145 D Millar (GB) Cofidis +32.20.

Overall: 1 Armstrong 70hr 37min 59sec; 2 Ullrich +1min 07sec; 3 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom +2.45; 4 H Zubeldia (Sp) Euskaltel +5.16; 5 I Mayo (Sp) Euskaltel +5.25; 6 Hamilton +6.35; 7 I Basso (It) Fassa Bortolo +8.08; 8 C Moreau (Fr) Crédit Agricole +11.12; 9 F Mancebo (Sp) +16.05; 10 C Sastre (Sp) Team CSC +16.12. Selected: 53 Millar +1hr 55min 05sec.

Points (green jersey): 1 B Cooke (Aus) 156; 2 R McEwen (Aus) Lotto 148; 3 Zabel 143; 4 T Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole 134; 5 O'Grady 128. Selected: 8 Ullrich 98; 9 Vinokourov 91; 10 Armstrong 83.

King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey): 1 R Virenque (Fr) Quick Step 324pts; 2 L Dufaux (Switzerland) Alessio187; 3 Armstrong 168; 4 J M Mercado (Sp) ibanesto.Com 133; 5 Moreau 132; 6 Mayo 130; 7 Zubeldia 125; 8 Ullrich 124; 9 Hamilton 116; 10 Bettini 100.

Youth (under-25, white jersey): 1 D Menchov (Rus) 70:55:08; 2 M Astarloza (Sp) AG2R +42:33; 3 Mercado +1:00:38; 4 S Chavanel (Fr) Brioches +1:07:07; 5 M Rogers (Aut) Quick Step +1:19:06.

Teams: 1 CSC 209hr 36min 55sec; 2 Euskaltel +9min 8sec; 3 US Postal +16:03; 4 +18:53; 5 Bianchi +1:01:08.