Four-time defending champion Lance Armstrong is only one of six American cyclists who started this month's Tour de France in a field of 198. While he has worn the yellow jersey as the overall leader for the majority of the days, but he is not the only U.S. cyclist making headlines.
Many of the newspapers here Thursday had front page photographs of triumphant American cyclist Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton is taking part in his seventh Tour de France, but until Wednesday in Bayonne, he had never won a stage of the prestigious and grueling three-week annual competition.
He previously was a member of the U.S. Postal Service team headed by compatriot Lance Armstrong, but the 32-year-old Hamilton became good enough to leave and become a lead rider for another squad, Team CSC. He is the only American on that nine-rider Denmark-based team here. The squad has four Danes and one cyclist each from Italy, Spain, Austria and France.
Hamilton said without the assistance of his teammates, which is so important in a multi-stage cycling race, he could not have won Wednesday. Early on he found himself trailing the main pack by almost 20 seconds and he needed help to catch back up.
"I was just too far back in the peloton [main pack of riders] and all of a sudden the peloton split, and I was in the second group," he explained. "It was a big, big mistake and I had to call for help, and luckily I had four or five teammates drop back and help me. Without their help I don't know if I would have caught back up. I was mad at myself and I really wanted to repay them and have a good stage. You know, without their help, I wouldn't have won for sure."
And Hamilton won the stage in an impressive lengthy solo breakaway from the rest of the field.
Tyler Hamilton started his athletic career as a downhill ski racer. He was on the University of Colorado ski team, which is always among the best in the United States. To stay fit during the off-season, he trained on a mountain bike. Later he won a university national championship road race and then became a professional cyclist in 1995. That was with Montgomery Sports, a group that became sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service in 1996. Hamilton is still good friends with Lance Armstrong, with whom he rode on the Postal team for several years. Armstrong even gave Hamilton credit when he asked a group of cyclists to stop when Armstrong fell near the end of Monday's stage.
Before this Tour de France began, Tyler Hamilton was seen as one of a handful of cyclists capable of beating Lance Armstrong. But he suffered a broken collarbone in the 35-rider collision that took place in the first full stage of the Tour. However, Hamilton had spent the entire year training for the Tour, so he decided not to drop out, even with all the pain. It has slowly improved, but he said it has definitely been a handicap. "The first week was just brutal. Both on and off the bike I was suffering a lot and I wasn't sleeping well and I just took it day to day the first week," he said. " It's still not 100 percent. It's sore. You know it's hard. I have to sleep flat on my back. I can't sleep on my side and I'm kind of getting sick of it. But I feel like it's becoming stronger and I can pull on the handle bars a little bit more now. But I still favor it a little bit. I feel a little bit awkward when I'm standing up [on my peddles and off the bicycle saddle]."
Tyler Hamilton is only left to wonder what he could have achieved had he not suffered the injury.
"After the [individual] time trial I was still in fourth position. You know I just had a couple days, not necessarily bad days, but just off days in the first two days of the Pyrenees," Hamilton said. "You know, if I was just a little bit better on those two stages I'd still be in the hunt for the podium [top three overall at the finish]. So I think the podium in the future could be a possibility."
After his victory in the 16th stage Wednesday, Tyler Hamilton moved up to sixth in the overall standings, but he was still almost four minutes from cracking the top three for a podium position. There was little chance he could make up that much time by Sunday's finish in Paris.