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How is life in exile? "It could be worse," Tyler Hamilton told me last week. For the longest time the only problem with his gorgeous home high in the mountains outside Boulder, Colo., was that he was so seldom in it. "It's kind of nice," says Hamilton, 34, "staying in one place for six months"-a luxury denied him during his 15-year career.
That career is now on hold. Last September at the Vuelta a Espa�a, Hamilton tested positive for a homologous transfusion: injecting another person's blood. On April 17 two of the three North American arbitrators deciding his case- U.S. Anti-Doping Agency v. Tyler Hamilton--concluded that he was guilty. He began a two-year suspension that day.
"Well, Ty," I asked him, "did you do it?"
"Absolutely not," he said.
He is either a splendid actor or a victim of justice gone awry. Those familiar with him reacted to the news of his positive test with disbelief. Hamilton had no history of cheating and had everything to lose. He was in the homestretch of a career that, though overshadowed by Lance Armstrong's, had brought him fortune and fame.
His epic falls and feats of courage can be ticked off by mechanics in bike shops throughout the republic: In 2003, Hamilton rode virtually the entire Tour de France with a fractured collarbone. The year before, he broke his shoulder in a crash at the Giro d'Italia, and over the balance of that race he ground the enamel off his molars to cope with the pain.
"One reason he has such a following," says his wife, Haven, "is that he's so human. He crashes, he gets hurt, sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. But he's never been afraid to fail."
The test that has transformed his life into a waking nightmare is based on something called flow cytometry. It can identify mixed populations of red blood cells-i.e., someone else's blood in yours.
Hamilton lost his hearing but was supported by one of the three arbitrators. In a stinging dissent, Chris Campbell attacked the test for various flaws, including its failure "to calculate the rate of false positives." He cited the testimony of David Housman, an MIT professor who teaches validation of testing methods. Housman said the test failed to meet the prevailing standards of the scientific community. He was more blunt when I spoke with him on Sunday: "This test is not ready for prime time."
Hamilton never disputed the presence of a second population of red blood cells in his body. He disputed his accusers' conclusions about how it got there.