Tyler Hamilton Part 1: PEZ-Clusive Interview
He’s one of the best-known English-speaking riders in the peloton, and has earned the respect of his peers with years of top-class performances supporting Lance Armstrong, and producing results of his own, including a Dauphine Libere win, and a Giro stage and 2nd overall last year.
Tyler was good enough to spare some time in his schedule after his Paris-Nice efforts to speak to PezCycling News. He reveals a little more about Tyler the rider, and Tyler the man.
A big, big thank you to Haven, Tyler’s wife, for helping out with setting the interview up, and also to Brian Nygaard at Riis Cycling.
Tyler – The Rider
Pez: How has your build-up to the new season gone? Do you feel more relaxed this year as you’re now settled into the CSC squad?
Tyler: I feel really good about the season ahead given that I’ve got a year of racing with CSC under my belt. I’ve also changed my training program significantly under Bjarne (Riis, CSC’s Directeur Sportif), so that’s helped me along quite a bit as well. I’m much stronger after a year of riding under Bjarne’s guidance than I have ever been. So I’m encouraged by how my training has progressed and how I am feeling on the bike. Traditionally, the early part of the season is a challenge for me. But I’m hoping that things will be different this season.
Pez: Do you find the team organization better on CSC compared to US Postal? It sometimes appeared that USPS had 2 leaders, one for the tour and one for the classics with no real chance for any other rider to move up. Can riders at CSC with talent move up to lead the team?
Tyler: Bjarne is an equal opportunity director. Anyone who shows focus and dedication and possesses a drive to succeed will have the opportunity to do so on CSC. The directing staff on this team is exceptionally supportive. This is a great team for up and coming talent.
The environment on US Postal was a little different because each season since 1999 has been focused around winning the Tour de France. If USPS wins every other race of the year, but loses the Tour, than their season is a failure. With a goal as huge as the Tour so central, it’s difficult to make room for much more. It’s a great team for any rider who is eager to learn about razor sharp focus, and wants to be a part of a support network of riders assembled to compete at an incredibly high standard.
Pez: What is it like riding under Bjarne Riis? What sort of a guy is he?
Tyler: All I can tell you is what I know and think of Bjarne. He is a quiet perfectionist and is also an incredibly hard worker. In addition, he is incredibly laid back. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything in the world that could rattle the guy. When I crashed into the barriers during the Giro prologue last year, he was out of the car and helping me up before I hit the ground. And he did so without losing his cool. He never shouts or stresses out. His style of leading the team is almost fatherly in that he is always firmly behind his riders exuding a sort of quiet confidence that shows his belief in their abilities and potential. He is always the first person to put a hand on your back after a good day, and more importantly, after a bad day, as well.
Bjarne partners with a guy named BS Kristiansen to pull together these team-building camps in pre-season. I think it’s incredibly insightful for a director to bring his guys together like this. We all suffer a little bit together, but it unites us and makes us get to know one another on a deeper level than racing. I can honestly say all my team-mates are friends, which is due in large part, to these kinds of activities and Bjarne’s leadership style.
Pez: You had a pretty successful Paris-Nice, snaring the Mountains competition prize, and showing your strength in a long breakaway. How do you feel that race went?
Tyler: I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived at Paris-Nice. It’s one thing to train hard, but racing is a totally different deal. I was pleased to have respectable results in the prologue and time trial. And my break away attempt during stage 6 was also a good test to see what my legs could do.
Pez: You’re riding the TdF all being well. Is that the sole target this season, or would you like another shot at the Giro if you can swing it?
Tyler: The CSC Team won’t be doing the Giro this year. With a roster of only 20 riders it’s difficult to spread the group between two grand tours with serious objectives for both. I’m looking forward to racing the Tour this year. I’ve competed in six Tours but I’ve never done so with the Tour as my central focus, or as a team leader.
Pez: You had a great season at CSC last year, with 2nd overall and a stage win at the Giro. If you had a choice would you like a result similar to that, or a Classic win like LBL?
Tyler: Winning any race is a huge accomplishment at the Division I level. So if there are opportunities for me or for the team throughout the year, we’ll certainly go after them. People rarely remember 2nd or 3rd place.
Pez: Looking at last year’s Giro, you seemed to have everyone marked except Savoldelli. When Savoldelli made his winning break, did it surprise you – do you feel that you ‘lost the Giro’ or that Savoldelli won it?
Tyler: Savodelli is a classy rider. He didn’t surprise me when he attacked. I was just disappointed that I couldn’t stay with him that day. Because of my shoulder injury, I was having trouble standing up while climbing and accelerating. But in the end, he won the race fair and square. He was the strongest guy.
Pez: As a team leader you can now attack when you want – but how much more difficult is that now that you’re a ‘marked man’ at CSC?
Tyler: I think every team leader is a marked man to some degree. But I also think my breakaway attempt in Paris-Nice is proof that anything is possible. If you are aggressive, every once in a while the effort will stick.
Pez: How do you see your career developing? Will you continue to concentrate on the Grand Tours, or will you target Classics or week-long stage races like the Dauphinй which you’ve already won?
Tyler: I can only take things one year at a time. Right now, CSC is counting on me to be a solid stage racer, and that means in everything from Criterium International which is two days long, up to the grand tours. I like the rhythm of being with the team during multi-day races. So, at this point, you could say I prefer them.
Pez: You’re known as a super time-trial rider, winning a TT at the Giro last year? How do you prepare to ride a TT – do you have any special sort of build-up which is different from other races?
Tyler: I’m actually a quiet guy. When I’m getting ready for a race I sort of retreat into my own world where I can focus solely on the job ahead. I like to have a little time to myself on the trainer before a time trial, without too much distraction. I’m the same way before a race start. I like to get to the staging area a little bit early and just chill out a few seconds prior to the start. I hate to be stressed so I try to be calm before every race.
Pez: Leaving yourself out of the equation, who do you foresee as being the big star for CSC this season, now that Jalabert has retired?
Tyler: There’s a lot of talent on the team. Obviously Carlos Sastre is a big gun. CSC will be looking to him to do big things in the Tour and throughout the year. He’s proven he can climb with the best in the world. We also have strong guys like Andrea Tafi and Tristan Hoffman who will be factors throughout the spring. And guys like Jakob Piil are always a threat when the form comes around. So, there are many riders who can lead this team.
Pez: How has Andrea Tafi fit in with the Danish way of doing things?
Tyler: Andrea is a great guy. He fits in perfectly with the laid back atmosphere on the team. He’s really friendly and easy to be around. It seems as though we’ve known him longer than we have.
Pez: How do you get on with the guys at USPS now? It seemed that Lance’s relationship with Kevin Livingston soured because of (the manner of?) his move to Telekom – is everything cool with you and Lance?
Tyler: Lance was really supportive of my move to CSC. We discussed the opportunity at length while we were still team-mates and he encouraged me to try something new after seven seasons with the same team. We’re neighbours in Spain so we still see one another off the race circuit.
Pez: You seem to be stricken with some rotten luck – perhaps more than most riders- especially when it comes to crashes. How has this affected you mentally, perhaps in the way you ride now? Are you consciously more aware of staying upright than before?
Tyler: I don’t think I crash more than other riders. It’s a job hazard we all contend with as far as I’m concerned. My only bad luck is that I have happened to crash during the grand tours when the television cameras are trained on our every move.
I have also had some bad luck with equipment, but those issues were all addressed immediately, and my confidence in the components was completely restored.
Pez: What do you think of the potential of the next line of American cyclists? You came from a very talented group – what do you think guys like Pate, Zabriskie, Danielson, etc, can achieve?
Tyler: I think there’s a healthy crop of younger riders coming up from the US. I wish there were a few more, however. But that said, the guys over here are learning fast and will all do their part to keep the American cycling program going. A lot of riders’ futures are shaped by the teams they join and the directors they work with. I think guys like Floyd Landis have a big future ahead of them. I’m hopeful that the US will continue to maintain a Division I team in Europe. Right now, there are a good number of Americans in the peloton, and that’s great to see.
Pez: You started out on the US domestic scene. When you mentioned before that riders’ futures are shaped by their directors, is their any figure that helped you out?
Tyler: Steve Pucci will always be my first coach and the greatest early influence on my cycling career. If it weren’t for him or for CCB, I wouldn’t have had the goods to join the University of Colorado Cycling Team. Pooch, as we call him, is the biggest influence on the New England cycling scene. There are a lot of guys who owe him credit for supporting their livelihood. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without Steve Pucci.
A huge thanks to Tyler for speaking to us. Everyone at PezCyclingnews sends him our best wishes for the rest of the 2003 season and beyond. We’ll follow all the big races, so you’ll find out about Tyler’s successes here!
Ed. Note: hey – why not read the Tyler Hamilton Interview: Part 2 ?