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What Tyler Hamilton did

He rode for three weeks with a broken collar bone and came in fourth place at the Tour de France. I would have thought it impossible, but there you have it – Tyler Hamilton with his collar bone held in place with tape:

Oy.

I came across this fact (no doubt well known among people who follow cycling as a sport) when a friend posted an article about Lance Armstrong’s latest issues with the American anti-doping agency.

So yes, I know that Tyler Hamilton was on EPO, testosterone and quite possibly a pint of his own fresh blood when that picture was taken. That’s how he knows Lance Armstrong dopes – they did it together.

But I am impressed by Hamilton. He has been referred to as “tough” for his ability to withstand pain on the epic three-week ride through the Alps. He also rode with a broken shoulder during the Giro d’Italia in 2002. He was in so much pain he vomited.

But I am not sure that “tough” is the right word to describe Hamilton’s feats of withstanding pain. Because maybe he did not withstand the pain so much as stand, or cycle, with it–even  within it, never letting go.

This notion of toughness with regard to Hamilton interests me because he is not a big tough guy. At his peak, when he came in fourth at the Tour de France, he weighed about 140 pounds. He was and is an elf on a bicycle. A little guy riding through mountains as if he had wings.

Whatever it is that made it possible for Tyler Hamilton to ride a bike for three weeks with a broken collar bone is the same quality that came forth when he testified before a grand jury about doping. Flood gates opened, and he revealed everything he had kept hidden for 14 years. Along with a great many of his peers in the cycling world, he had led a double life – hiding the reality of doping from everyone outside of pro cycling’s closed inner circle. But once the he started telling the truth to the jury, Tyler’s double life collapsed. And in the wake of that collapse, he appeared on 60 minutes to let the entire cycling community, along with all his friends, fans and enemies, know that he had given away all his secrets, and in so doing, the secrets of cycling’s great master, Lance Armstrong.

For the average person, the only way to tell if someone is lying is to trust their instincts. Armstrong and his supporters say that Tyler is lying – that he is trying to draw attention to himself to make money or sell books.

But the face I saw in the 60 Minutes interview was a human face; the face of a person standing within his pain, moving through debris created by the wave of truth-telling that cleared away his past life.

If toughness has a hard outer shell, if it is insensitive to suffering, then Tyler Hamilton is not tough. And he is certainly not big. His strength seems to be in his ability to move with the currents that push and pull him – wind currents, waves of pain, the force of truth rushing through his life – until he somehow arrives at a new place which is sometimes, but not always, the finish line.

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