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Hamilton's Tour de Force

After a crash in France, American blows away the field for time trial gold. Julich wins the bronze, and Barry takes the women's silver.

August 19, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Tyler Hamilton has something Lance Armstrong doesn't.

An Olympic gold medal.

On U.S. cycling's best Olympic day, Hamilton, 33, erased some of the disappointment he experienced at the recent Tour de France by demolishing the field on a sweaty day and winning the 29.8-mile individual time trial in 57 minutes 31.74 seconds. Silver medalist Viatcheslav Ekimov of Russia, Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammate, was 18.84 seconds behind. Winning the bronze was another American, Bobby Julich of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Earlier in the day, Dede Barry of Milwaukee started things off by earning the silver medal in the women's time trial behind defending champion Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel of the Netherlands. Van Moorsel raced the 14.9-mile course in 31 minutes 11.53 seconds, 24.09 seconds faster than Barry. Switzerland's Karin Thuerig took bronze and Christine Thorburn of Davenport, Iowa, was fourth.

Hamilton, of Marblehead, Mass., had endured what he called his most difficult cycling moment earlier this summer when he had to withdraw from the Tour de France during the 13th stage.

Hamilton, a pre-race candidate to dethrone Armstrong, his former teammate, had fallen hard during a first-week crash. The bruises from that crash still covered his back Wednesday, some of them looking as if they were a day old instead of a month old.

After becoming the first American to win the individual time trial in a non-boycotted Olympics, Hamilton said the gold medal made up for the year's disappointments, not the least of which was the death of his dog. Tugboat, his constant companion, died of cancer midway through the Tour. Hamilton wore Tugboat's red dog tags during Wednesday's race.

"I could have been last in every race this year but this gold medal is the end to just an incredible season," Hamilton said. "This right here, this gold medal in Greece, makes me forget about my big objective for the beginning of the year, which was the Tour de France. I have Tugboat's dog tags right here with me. They brought me luck."

Ekimov, 38, was the defending gold medalist and has been one of Armstrong's strongest supporters during his record six Tour de France victories.

Hamilton, who rode the 2003 Tour with a broken collarbone, credited Armstrong for bringing attention to U.S. cycling.

"We owe Lance a lot of credit for where we are today," Hamilton said. "The strength of these four riders today, it was incredible. It shows the U.S. has a lot of depth in cycling. We are just four, four of the many."

Said Julich, who was riding despite a broken wrist suffered in the Tour: "I knew I had good legs and I was real relaxed." Barry, who plans to retire after the Olympics to start a family, said, "I'm so happy. Everything worked out. It's such a great feeling."

But this day belonged to Hamilton.

"I've been angry ever since crashing out of the Tour," he said, "and I took that anger out today. This gold medal is everything. I don't feel any hurt from last month now.

"To win an Olympic gold medal racing for the United States of America is the best thing in the world."

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