During his nearly 15 years as a professional cyclist, Tyler Hamilton says his complete focus on the sport made him, socially speaking, “kind of a monk.” The former Tour de France competitor and 2004 Olympic gold medalist trained almost around the clock, building and maintaining his strength and ability. Particularly in the latter half of his career, Hamilton developed a better understanding of the science that goes into becoming a better, more efficient cyclist—knowledge that inspired him as he prepared to transition out of the sport several years ago.
“Training was my life,” says Hamilton, who has lived in Missoula since 2012. “It was everything. Everything else took a back seat.”
Shortly after retiring in 2009, Hamilton launched Tyler Hamilton Training, offering his services as a personal cycling coach for clients across the country. Through phone calls, emails and Skype sessions, Hamilton worked to develop customized, goal-oriented bicycle training regimens for weekend-warrior types.
“It’s not just pedaling around. It’s serious,” Hamilton says. “There are times when they go out and ride easy and smell the roses, so to speak. But most of the time they’re working because they want to get stronger. … Maybe last year they did the 25-mile charity ride and this year they want to do the 50-mile. That’s their goal.”
Hamilton has become well known in recent years not just for his professional accomplishments but for the controversy that erupted in the wake of his retirement. In 2011, Hamilton admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs and implicated famed Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong in an elaborate and secretive doping ring. Hamilton weathered intense criticism from fellow competitors and fans both before and after the release of his book, The Secret Race. But as sponsors have walked away from Armstrong and more athletes have stepped forward, Hamilton has become vindicated. He says he’s enjoying a quieter life in Missoula, but while Tyler Hamilton Training is one of his primary focuses, he still travels the country on a regular basis to share his story.
“Right now, I feel like I’m speaking for the whole generation of guys I raced with, and sometimes taking the heat for all of them too, because a lot of people are still pissed and disappointed,” he says.
For the first three years of his post-retirement coaching career, Hamilton was a one-man show. He then hired one of his original trainees, Jim Capra, who is now Tyler Hamilton Training’s head coach. They work regularly with some 75 clients worldwide, most of whom Hamilton estimates are middle-aged with kids and demanding jobs. They have difficulty balancing hectic schedules and maximizing their time on a bike, he says. That’s where Tyler Hamilton Training comes in.
“One week can go totally normal, but one week you could have to change your training schedule five different times,” Hamilton says. “So we’re constantly fixing things, changing things. It’s fully customized, but it’s all based around you.”
It’s a model Hamilton believes he could expand on in Missoula. He thinks a storefront could focus not just on cycling, but on building lasting and intimate relationships with clients. At times he thinks of himself and Capra more as psychologists than as coaches. You spend considerable time with clients, he says, learn their strengths, their weaknesses, freak out when they have a race and you haven’t heard from them.
“My high kind of comes from getting their feedback and seeing them make improvements,” Hamilton says. “The greener the person is, the steeper the learning curve. But in two weeks you see huge improvements, and to hear their voice, it’s amazing.”