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Hamilton given two-year doping ban

DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- Olympic gold medalist Tyler Hamilton has been banned from competitive cycling for two years for a blood-doping violation in September 2004.

The suspension was handed down by the independent American Arbitration Association-North American Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"This is far from over," Hamilton told the Rocky Mountain News and said he will appeal the ruling at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

If the suspension is confirmed by sport's supreme court, it will effectively spell the end of Hamilton's career.

The 34-year-old would be banned from competition until April 17, 2007.

The American cyclist tested positive at the Tour of Spain last September and all his results since then are forfeited.

Hamilton had been under a cloud of doping suspicion since the Athens Olympics, where he tested positive for a blood transfusion on August 18.

However, Hamilton was controversially allowed to keep his gold medal when a second, or 'B', test was "non-conclusive" because it had been destroyed by being deep-frozen.

Following the Olympics, Hamilton again found himself at the center of a doping storm when he gave a positive test for a blood transfusion after his Tour of Spain time trial victory.

Blood transfusions are considered a form of blood-doping under the World Anti-Doping Code because it allows an athlete to increase their oxygen rich red blood cells, increasing their aerobic power and endurance.

Hamilton denial

Hamilton has denied doping allegations.

"It caught me completely by surprise," Hamilton said in a telephone interview with the News.

"Not for a second did I think it was going to turn out this way. The bottom line is an innocent athlete was suspended from competition. You could say it's a victory for USADA (U.S. Anti Doping Agency), but I think it's better to say it's a tragedy for all athletes. I'm innocent."

The arbitration panel ruled that Hamilton's positive sample was from a transfusion of another person's blood. That would increase Hamilton's red-blood-cell count, increasing his endurance, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said.

Based on blood tests done in spring and summer 2004, the International Cycling Union (UCI) had warned Hamilton and his Phonak team that he was under suspicion.

"UCI took the necessary action to protect the integrity of its sport," said Terry Madden, USADA's chief executive officer. "This decision shows that sport is committed to protecting the rights of all clean athletes and that no athlete is above the rules."

The UCI denied Phonak a racing license last fall because Hamilton and two other team riders had been accused in doping cases in the previous three months.

The decision meant Phonak cannot compete in UCI Pro Tour events this year, including the Tour de France.

Phonak fired Hamilton in November, nearly a year before his contract was set to expire. He said at the time that he agreed to leave to improve the team's chances of competing on the pro tour.

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

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

Copyright 2005 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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