Three miles from the finish of the one-day, 160-mile
Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic in Belgium on April 27, Tyler
Hamilton faced a critical decision: Do I make a break? Having
caught his former teammate and mentor Lance Armstrong, Hamilton
went for the kill, making a daring break from the pack on the
race's steep final ascent to become the first North American
champion in the world's oldest one-day race.
It was a breakout moment for the 32-year-old ex-domestique for
the U.S. Postal Service team who eight days later would win the
six-day Tour de Romandie. Two years after leaving the Posties to
lead the powerful, Danish-based CSC squad, Hamilton has
established himself as something other than cycling's Other
American. Maybe not quite the Next Lance, but at the very least a
cyclist to be reckoned with at this year's Tour de France. "Tyler
had a name before this, for sure," CSC manager and 1996 Tour
winner Bjarne Riis told Velo News after the Romandie victory.
"Now he's one of the world's best riders."
Hamilton, a former University of Colorado skier who fell into
road cycling while rehabbing from a mountain bike accident that
left him with two broken vertebrae in his lower back, has always
been a force in the mountains, pacing Armstrong on the climbs
that have defined the four-time champ's dominance of the Tour. He
is also a solid time-trial rider and possesses a Lance-like
resilience. Last year, his first with CSC, Hamilton finished
second in the Giro d'Italia--the most important race behind the
Tour--despite racing the final two weeks of the three-week event
with a fractured shoulder.
Hamilton and Armstrong parted on amicable terms, and the day
after Hamilton's victory in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Armstrong
called to offer his congratulations. "I feel like I carry parts
of Lance within me," says Hamilton.
Enough parts perhaps to extend U.S. dominance of the Tour even
after Armstrong hangs up his Trek. --Julia Morrill
COLOR PHOTO: JUERG MUELLER/AP Hamilton