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Switching gears: Tyler Hamilton's feelings about Lance Armstrong change

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

The number of people lined up to take pot shots at Lance Armstrong on Friday morning in the wake of his "truth-telling" interview with Oprah Winfrey is lengthy. Tyler Hamilton is not one of them.

"I understand the general reaction, the general public reaction," Hamilton said in a phone interview with Yahoo! Sports. "He is a fighter, one of the toughest dudes I've ever met. I'd ask the public to give him a little bit of freedom going through this. They don't need to write the guy love letters, but show a little support and encourage him to do the right things.

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Tyler Hamilton has a unique understanding of Lance Armstrong's burden. (Getty Images)

"There are only two people in this world that I've personally hated. I no longer hate him," he continued. "In a roundabout way I feel fortunate I met him. Together, we went through some of the best of times and some of the worst of times."

Hamilton has come a long way. There was a time not too long ago when he hated Lance Armstrong, regretted ever meeting him. It was just two years ago when the two former teammates ran into each other at an Aspen, Colo., restaurant where, according to Hamilton, Armstrong told him he was "going to make [his] life a living hell both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom."

Such was Armstrong's tactic with anyone who dared speak the truth about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, which Hamilton did in a revealing "60 Minutes" interview a few months before the Aspen incident and most recently in his book "The Secret Race."

Hamilton, for those who don't know, rode side by side with Armstrong through his first three Tour de France wins. They were teammates, which – when the U.S. Postal Service cycling team was in its prime – meant they did just about everything together. That included using PEDs.

But while Armstrong never got caught, Hamilton eventually did, first after he won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, and later that same year during a race in Spain.

Thus began Hamilton's years of fabrications, the ones where he lied about his use of PEDs, denying he'd ever taken anything illegal, going as far as to say one of the positive tests was triggered by a vanishing twin.

[Related: Lance Armstrong's arrogant admission does little to help his image]

They were dark years, Hamilton said, the most destructive of his life.

"Lies suck, they tear you apart from the inside out," Hamilton said Friday. "There's no amount of money I'd take to live with those lies."

The flip side is telling the truth.

Hamilton finally came clean in 2011, implicating Armstrong at the same time. When asked what it was like in the days following his admission, if the avalanche of criticism weighed on him, Hamilton said it was exactly the opposite.

"Once I told the truth, it was like, I felt so good I didn't care what people thought of me," he explained. "I knew that people disliked me, and there always will be, but that's the price you pay for being in the limelight, so to speak.

"Do I deserve to be disliked? Yeah, I deserve it. If they come around and maybe respect me, that's great, but if they don't I completely understand. I'll live with my wrongdoings the rest of my life."

This is where Armstrong is today. He's getting lambasted in the media, not for telling the truth, but for the arrogance and flippancy with which he did.

Because of Armstrong's power and the way he controlled his life, Hamilton said he never thought he'd see this day. And no, Armstrong has not called him to apologize.

[Related: Oprah takes loss in first part of Lance Armstrong interview]

"He doesn't need to call me, doesn't need to apologize to me," Hamilton said. "I'd prefer he spend that time on somebody else, Betsy Andreu, Emma O'Reilly, other people who he's destroyed."

Andreu is the wife of former Postal rider Frankie Andreu. Armstrong called her "crazy" and a "bitch" when she dared to tell the truth about him. O'Reilly, the team's masseuse, was called a "whore" by Armstrong who eventually sued her after she attempted to expose him.

But rather than critique the Armstrong interview or weigh in on whether Lance is telling the truth when he said he raced the 2009 and 2010 Tour de Frances clean despite evidence to the contrary, Hamilton is trying to move forward and spin this into a positive. He calls Armstrong's admission "a great step for Lance Armstrong and the sport of cycling. Not a huge step, but a very significant one because he basically got the ball rolling."

Armstrong may not be telling the whole truth now, but neither did Hamilton when he first came clean. Not right away. He started with about 80 percent, he admits, but eventually it all came out.

"The truth always finds it's way out, even years and years and years later," he said. "The truth always prevails. Just look at the tragedy we're seeing here."

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