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Hamilton Tests Positive

The Vuelta a España has been rocked this morning by news that Tyler Hamilton (Phonak), has returned two positive blood tests that showed evidence of a homologous blood transfusion. One test was performed at the Athens Olympics and another at the Vuelta. Both tests showed evidence of a "mixed red blood cell population, an indication of a homologous blood transfusion," Phonak's press officer Georges Lüchinger was quoted by AP as saying. The results of the counter-analyses are not yet known, but are expected today (Tuesday).

Hamilton, winner of the gold medal at the Athens 2004 Olympics in the individual time trial as well as the Vuelta's eighth stage time trial, abandoned the race prior to stage 13 claiming stomach problems. Hamilton has denied having a transfusion, saying the positive test was the result of a surgical intervention he had some time ago. If the B samples are confirmed positive, then he risks losing his Olympic gold medal, which would make Viatcheslav Ekimov the Olympic time trial champion again.

Phonak team director Alvaro Pino said, "I have spoken to Tyler and he has claimed he is innocent and apart from whatever the (Phonak) team decides, he will do whatever he has to do to defend himself from these accusations." Phonak will hold a press conference later this evening.

Enhancing endurance performance via blood transfusion is nothing new: Athletes admitted to using it at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, when it was not illegal. Typically, a quantity of blood is withdrawn from an athlete some time before an important competition, and when the time comes, the red cells are reinjected to provide an extra boost. This can also be done with another person's blood and even with EPO-enhanced blood, although the risk of detection is far greater. Former Kelme cyclist Jesus Manzano claimed that he nearly died when he was reinjected with some "bad blood" late in 2003.

Tyler Hamilton's case is the first ever positive for a blood transfusion, as up until very recently, doping via this method has been undetectable. A powerful blood test developed by Australian researchers was implemented at this year's Tour de France. The test didn't look for a particular banned substance, but instead examined whether there were any abnormalities in a person's blood as a result of artificial manipulation. At the Tour, it was announced that homologous blood transfusions could be detected, but autologous transfusions could not.

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