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'What if?

Mixed memories of Tour for heroic Hamilton

Posted: Sunday July 27, 2003 9:59 AM

PARIS (AP) -- Tyler Hamilton takes away mixed memories from a Tour de France where he earned the respect of his cycling peers with a display of extraordinary courage.

While his former U.S. Postal teammate Lance Armstrong took the glory with a record-equaling fifth straight win, Hamilton became the symbol of courage on this incredibly grueling, action-packed centennial Tour.

Having suffered a double fracture of the shoulder when caught in a crash involving 35 riders during the first stage July 6, Hamilton battled extreme pain to finish a credible fourth place overall.

However, the amiable 32-year-old will always wonder how well he might have done without injury.

"I'll always look back and think, 'What if?"' said Hamilton, speaking on a slow, gentle train journey that took the remaining cyclists to the outskirts of Paris for Sunday's final stage. "But that's life. Life is a roller coaster ride," he added, leaning against a doorway behind which close friend Armstrong sat, nibbling on jam and croissants.

"The way you deal with the low points in your life is what makes you a person and I think I dealt with a difficult situation the best I could," he said.

This is Hamilton's seventh Tour and his most memorable -- for the elation felt winning his first ever Tour stage on July 23, but also for the darkest hours, when his body was so wrenched with pain he wondered if he could carry on at all.

"For me, to win a stage was incredible, it really made me forget about the big, big, disappointments," he said. "This Tour has given me some of my lowest moments and some of my biggest highlights ... I'll never forget."

For Hamilton, now in his second season with Danish outfit Team CSC, fourth spot is his best Tour result. Last year, he placed 15th. In 1999, as a support rider in Armstrong's first Tour win, he finished 13th.

Finally able to rest his sore shoulder and his tired mind, Hamilton paid special tribute to the French fans who touched him deeply with their continued support on every stage throughout his epic journey.

"I really want to say a special thanks to the French public," he said. "What I went through was very difficult and it certainly helped a lot to have those words of encouragement from people on the road."

One banner, draped across a rock in the Alps some two weeks ago, summed up the affection felt for Hamilton -- who showed how an iron will can conquer even the toughest setbacks.

"Tyler: The Warrior," the banner read.


 
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