MOSCOW (Reuters) - Olympic champion Tyler Hamilton, whose two-year ban for blood doping ended in September, is delighted to have been recruited as Tinkoff Credit Systems's leading rider.
The Italy-based team, backed by Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov, does not have a ProTour license but hopes to compete in most major races as well as this year's Giro d'Italia.
"I would like to say special thanks to Oleg for believing in me as I've had a tough couple of years," Hamilton told reporters at a presentation in Moscow.
The American, who signed a two-year contract with the Russian outfit in November, was suspended after testing positive for a blood transfusion at the 2004 Tour of Spain.
"I started my career with the U.S. Postal Service, which was a small team back then but by the time I'd left we'd won the Tour de France three years in a row," said Hamilton.
"Then I joined another small team CSC and when I left them they were considered one of the premier teams.
"When I joined Phonak in 2004 they were only selected as a wildcard to ride the Tour so I really hope this team does as well as all the others I've raced for," he added.
Hamilton, the 2004 individual Olympic time trial champion, was fired by Phonak shortly after failing his drugs test.
"If I didn't believe in this team I wouldn't be here," said the 35-year-old.Asked if cycling had a doping problem, Hamilton said: "Yes but I don't think it's as big as many people perceive it is."
Tinkov confirmed media reports he had tried to sign former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, who was linked to an anti-doping investigation in Spain.
The German does not have a professional cycling license after being sacked by the T-Mobile team in July.
Ullrich, who won the Tour in 1997, has said he is innocent of any doping allegations made against him.
"It's not a question of money. We simply couldn't sign Ullrich because he doesn't have a license," said Tinkov."If he gets back his license we can talk about money and how much it would cost us to sign him."