• An Evening with Tyler Hamilton

    by  • April 26, 2013 • norcal scene

    26 April 2013

    Mike’s Bikes held a $100-a-ticket event a week ago last Wednesday to raise funds “to support the road racing efforts of Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase.” The venue was the Ian Ross Gallery on Brannen Street in San Francisco.

    A fund-raiser for a local bicycle-racing team is a worthy cause and by itself relatively innocuous. But, add the name Tyler Hamilton and everything becomes rapidly more complex.

    Hamilton’s harshest critics say, no matter the contrition, cheats and dopers should never hold sway over young bicycle racers nor should they benefit from their celebrity/notoriety. And some, on social media and elsewhere, even call into question the whole wisdom of inviting Tyler Hamilton to represent a product or team.

    So this was the backdrop for the fund-raiser and around 50 paying persons on the night felt it warranted their attendance.

    It took very little time to gather the paying audience was partisan, although not exclusively so. No surprises there. The questions from the first portion of the “interview”, submitted in advance, had none of a probing jab that a well-honed journalist could deliver. In any event, Hamilton’s responses and anecdotes would neither dissuade the audience nor sway the critics.

    Although Hamilton repeatedly encouraged challenging questions, the more difficult ones were often met with verbose answers where occasionally the train of thought drifted. Further, his encouragement that today’s young riders, when faced with the question of doping, should “think, think, and think some more” failed to drive home any ethical responsibility, as though this were a balance of pros and cons.

    There were some interesting and poignant moments. In particular, it would take a callous heart indeed to not feel even an gram of compassion in hearing Hamilton struggle as he spoke about lying to his parents.

    Beyond the noise and vitriol, however, one hopes to find whilst not common ground then some discerning perspective about the event. So, NorCal Cycling News caught up with two local bicycle racers to ask them about their views on the evening. On the night it was Rob Evans, who is part owner of the gallery-venue and a mentor to the U23 riders on the Bear Development Team.

    The other person was Philip Mooney who attended the evening as a guest and answered questions by e-mail several days after the event.

    NCCN What were your expectations beforehand?

    Philip Mooney “I went in to the talk with an open mind. I tend to be a fairly harsh and outspoken critic, but I like to think I’m always able to forgive and move on. I was hoping that he would demonstrate that he fully understood his role in the doping past and provide some experienced insight into solutions for the future. I left disappointed.”

    NCCN Did Tyler Hamilton change your view of his role in bringing the sport into disrepute?

    Philip Mooney “No. In fact, I think I left with a more negative view of him than from before I came. I felt that each admission of guilt came with a caveat of self justification. When asked how he felt about taking another pro’s opportunity away from them, he responded with – and let me paraphrase – “Yes, I know that I cheated, and that is unexcusable. But I always knew I was special and I earned my spot at the highest level with my pure talent and uncanny ability to handle pain.”

    “Throughout it all, I felt that his confession was a self-serving cathartic release of guilt. I was hoping for a more altruistic, or greater good, or something, twist to the story that never came. My buddy Cameron Falconer summed it up best immediately after the event when he walked up to me and said, ‘Thanks for coming to listen to me, but I’m done talking about me. Let’s hear what you think of me?!?'”

    NCCN Tyler Hamilton’s harshest critics believe cycling, at all levels, should not even court Hamilton’s celebrity; do you agree?

    Philip Mooney “The guy has experienced the sport, all the good and all the bad, like few others have. I think he potentially has a lot to add to the conversation. Maybe he’s not quite ready for that yet, but hopefully it’s coming. I do understand the point of these harsh critics, like Nicole Cooke, and a big part of me agrees.

    “Tyler was there as a friendly gesture in support of cycling and development teams. I give him lots of credit for that and appreciate his donating his time and effort to an event that is obviously still uncomfortable for him to talk about. Even though he’s there out of the goodness of his heart (and I do believe that he’s trying to be a good person in the best way he can), that’s not an excuse to give him a free pass when talking about his doping past.

    “I think all audiences should avoid the effusive praise that we saw from the audience in San Francisco. “Oh Tyler, I still have your poster on my wall. Oh Tyler, you can handle so much pain. Oh Tyler, I’m inspired by you daily.” I’m pretty sure I saw Pat Briggs vomit after some of these ‘questions’. We had an opportunity to really learn something at this event, ask the hard questions, get some real answers, but everyone just kept throwing up lobs. That was disappointing. I don’t think we need to burn the guy at the stake, but we also don’t need to praise his tainted past.”

    NCCN Did you agree with Mike’s Bikes holding this event and Team Mike’s Bikes reaping some benefit as a fund raiser?

    Philip Mooney “Oh certainly. I’d be uncomfortable if Tyler Hamilton was paid a fee for speaking, but since the guy donated his time and didn’t reap any direct financial award, I’m just fine with that. I think it’s great that Mike’s Bikes went out on a limb to facilitate a discussion and I’m certainly happy that the team could raise some money.”

    NCCN A former detractor now says cycling needs to listen to people like Tyler Hamilton for the sport’s recovery; is this a reasonable justification for the event?

    Philip Mooney “I don’t think you need justification to hold a civil, and hopefully constructive, dialogue. But I do agree and think Tyler Hamilton can have a role in the recovery of cycling. The past is the key to the present…and we don’t have the full story about the past yet!”

    NCCN Tyler Hamilton was asked about the best role for him to give back to cycling; what do you think is the best role for him?

    Philip Mooney “That was the end part of the question I submitted: ‘telling the truth may have been good for you but when do you right your wrongs and make amends to clean guys who were cheated, who never made it to your level?’. It was the only pressing question he got all night. I don’t have an answer and I’m torn with all the options I hear. I was really hoping for some insight from him. He didn’t give a straight answer to the question, so I bet he doesn’t even have a true plan himself. Hopefully that comes in time.”

    Amongst the Artwork, Rob Evans Lends his View on the Evening

    Amongst the Artwork, Rob Evans Lends his View on the Evening

    After the evening’s talk, Rob Evans spoke to NorCal Cycling News but wrote by e-mail before hand, saying “I used to be a huge Tyler hater, I even owned www.dontbelievetyler.org (it was a parody of believetyler)…so it’s ironic I’ve come full circle to embrace him.

    “Cycling is in it’s infancy of a 12-step program, it’s important we listen to those who want to tell the truth, as they are few and far between. Our sport, industry and federation are riddled with lies and the omertà.

    “Those who played the game have been rewarded with contracts, coaching jobs, seats on the selection committee and Grand Fondos…those who got caught (or told the truth) have been burnt on the stake. It’s time to reconcile the two.”

    NCCN How do you, as a renowned anti-doping advocate, reconcile having Tyler Hamilton talk at this event?

    Rob Evans “I don’t know about renowned but I talk a lot of trash.

    “Anyone who is brave enough to break that code of silence, to break that omertà, deserves to be heard. Tyler proved himself by not just coming clean but telling the whole story. He was one of the first persons, at least domestically, to tell the whole truth and for that I’ll give them a hall pass.

    “It’s obvious they made bad decisions and they were part of a bigger system. They were caught up in that system. They were eaten alive by that system. [But], the system promotes them to keep their mouths shut. Everyone that does keep their mouths shut are rewarded with jobs in the industry. Those are our coaches today, our selection committee, our national team coaches today. Just because they didn’t get caught doesn’t mean they’re clean and [not] part of the problem.”

    NCCN Tyler admitted tonight that he was on his third chance.

    Rob Evans “Tyler was the reason I got into anti-doping. Back in the day I was a Cat 3, I was a huge Tyler fan. A pro-tour rider friend told me ‘he’s the biggest doper there is. He and Floyd pushed the envelope harder than anyone else.’ Literally within a week Tyler tested positive at the Olympics.

    “That just blew my mind and from that moment on I took a super harsh anti-doping stance. This was in the time when people were loving Lance. I thought it was ironic coming full circle to embrace Tyler and forgive him when he was the one that spurred my anti-doping attitude.”

    NCCN You’re a mentor with the Bear Development Team, can Hamilton be a role model for the younger riders?

    Rob Evans “I don’t think he’ll be a role model to anyone. He’s going to be maybe an example of what can go wrong. You can see the guy talk and he’s a shit show. He’s gone through some problems and this is part of his reconciliation. You can tell he’s working it out but he’s a mess. He’s struggling with this, getting off his back.

    “I wouldn’t put him on a pedestal and call him a role model but he’s a very important part of cycling history. He’s someone we need to listen to. Like him or not we need to hear his story and his story is going to make a positive change for this sport.”

    NCCN You said beforehand that cycling and Tyler Hamilton are in a 12-step recovery program. How far along is cycling?

    Rob Evans “Lance coming out moved us up a couple steps. Before Lance came clean on the Oprah Winfrey interview, we were still on the first step. Lance coming clean was a huge, huge step for the sport. He was obviously the one everyone had questions about. If Lance is dirty, everything cascades down and now it makes sense.

    “I don’t think the sport could have moved forward until that happened. Now it has, we’re moving along. We’re still super early in that program. By no means do I think the sport is clean but I think there’s hope for clean riders. It’s not the same generation I grew up in…I’m around the same age as Tyler and Floyd. Those guys had no choice. Today they have a choice and that’s a huge step.”

    NCCN Was it right for Mike’s Bikes to invite Tyler Hamilton for this fundraiser?

    Rob Evans “I was conflicted when they first approached us to use the gallery. I’m the first one to throw stones. I read Tyler’s book and thought it was, not an apology, but the truth. I’m an advocate for getting the truth out there.

    “So I didn’t have to think too long about it before I agreed. It’s easy to throw stones, it’s easy to sit back on Facebook and say ‘fuck Tyler, fuck doping, he had a gun to his head and that’s the only reason he came clean’. Maybe that is the reason he came clean but at least he did. As Tyler said tonight, ‘it’s never too late to tell the truth.” That’s not a cycling or a doping lesson, that’s a life lesson.”

    NCCN What were your expectations coming into tonight?

    Rob Evans “[Tonight] was right in line with my expectations. It’s hard to ask hardball questions when he’s already answered them in his book. Just sitting down and seeing him verbalize and seeing him come to grips with the questions was really interesting.

    “There’s nothing new he told us tonight but just to see the interaction face-to-face, eye-to-eye, and see how the sport burned him, to see his love for the people in the room, that’s what tonight was all about. To show there can be reconciliation between that generation, doping, and people in cycling who care about the sport.

    “It’s not about one person or good versus evil. It’s about a process and a system that has gone wrong and we need to fix. It’s bigger than one person and what they did.”

    NCCN Do you have any other comments?

    Rob Evans “I hope social media give Mike’s Bikes a pass on this one. I like to talk shit about Mike’s Bikes on social media…who doesn’t. Who doesn’t like to talk shit about Tyler.

    “Until we embrace these kind of discussions, until we get the rest of the generation doing the same thing – the Hincapie’s, the Zabriskie’s, the Levi’s – we still have a long way to go.

    “To me, hopefully Tyler serves as an example to these other riders to say ‘hey, it was part of the culture, part of the sport, let’s get out in front of it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Let’s make sure the next generation of riders have a choice.'”

     

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    "Quod nomen mihi est?" Cranking the glass to capture photographs at bicycle races.