Hamilton third Phonak member dismissed for doping

GENEVA -- Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton was fired by his cycling team two months after testing positive for blood doping.

The Swiss-based International Cycling Union, or UCI, said Tuesday the Phonak team told the governing body that the American rider's contract was terminated last week.

Hamilton, a former University of Colorado skier, confirmed the move on his Web site, www.tylerhamilton.com.

"After many discussions with team management, we concluded together that it would not be possible for the team to continue at the level we hoped with my name on the roster," he wrote.

Phonak was denied a racing license by the UCI on Tuesday because of the team's doping problems. Hamilton and two other Phonak riders have been charged in drug cases in the past three months.

The decision means Phonak is barred from competing in all major events next year on UCI's Pro Tour -- which includes the Tour de France.

Phonak told UCI about Hamilton's dismissal while the organization was considering whether to issue the tour license, but the governing body said the decision to fire Hamilton made no difference in its decision.

"This team does not provide guarantees in respect of sporting ethics as they apply to doping," UCI's licenses commission said. "Its admission to the UCI Pro Tour would ... harm the image of cycling as a sport."

Hamilton's contract was scheduled to expire in December 2005. He
said he agreed to leave to improve the team's chances of being able
to compete on the pro tour.

"While at Phonak, I played a large role in bringing in various
sponsors, riders and staff," Hamilton wrote. "It is out of loyalty
to them and the remaining riders and staff that I accepted the
premature termination of my contract."

Hamilton first tested positive for blood doping after winning
the time trial at the Athens Olympics in August. But the case was
dropped after his backup sample was frozen, leaving too few red
blood cells to analyze.

Hamilton tested positive again for an illegal blood transfusion
at the Spanish Vuelta in September, with both samples confirming
the result. He faces a possible two-year ban if found guilty.

"I am more committed than ever to getting to the bottom of all
this," he added Tuesday. "I am looking forward to the judicial
process in my case and having the opportunity to prove my
innocence. It is my sincere hope that once I am exonerated I can
rejoin the ... sport I love."

Phonak declined to comment on Hamilton's firing. But, in a
statement on its Web site, www.phonak.com, the team criticized UCI's decision to
bar it from the pro tour.

Hamilton and Phonak officials have questioned the reliability of
the testing system for blood doping, which boosts endurance by
raising the level of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

Hamilton, 33, was considered a possible successor to six-time
Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. The two were former
teammates at the U.S. Postal Service team. Hamilton finished fourth
in the 2003 Tour de France despite a broken collarbone.

Hamilton earned a six-figure salary with Phonak. He has
endorsement deals with Nike, Oakley and other sponsors.

In addition to the Hamilton case, Phonak has been hit by drug
allegations involving two other riders, Spain's Santi Perez and
Switzerland's Oscar Camenzind.

In October, UCI notified Perez that he had tested positive for
an alleged blood transfusion a month earlier. Perez, whose contract
with Phonak runs out Dec. 31, denied any wrongdoing.

Camenzind, a former road cycling world champion, has been banned
for two years. He tested positive for the endurance-boosting drug
EPO in July and immediately withdrew from the Olympics. He was
fired by Phonak and announced his retirement.