HAMILTON'S ROAD ALWAYS LEADS BACK TO MARBLEHEAD

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MARBLEHEAD - No matter how far world-class cyclist Tyler Hamilton's trips have taken him, every one has been round, finishing up in the quirky, narrow streets of this seaside village.

Eventually.

For even though he and his wife, Haven, 33, consider their seven-room, two-bath house to be their home, they spend only about three months a year in it because the Tour de France, and all the other elite racing, occurs in Europe. "We kind of vacation at our home," says Hamilton, 31.

"Vacation" is a relative term for Hamilton, who represented the United States at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, because the training never stops. In addition to weight-lifting, swimming, and some skiing, he rides "four to six hours a day on average, seven days a week." He says he usually heads north ("One of the problems with Marblehead is that you can't head east, and south isn't that good an idea either."), often into New Hampshire.

When he returns each day, he arrives at an 1849 Colonial expanded in the 1960s and renovated soon after the couple purchased it in 1999. Their demolition work, Tyler says, kicked off a yearlong project that included three months of intense construction. Among the changes, they converted a main-level bedroom into their dining room, and a bedroom upstairs into a bathroom.

Visitors are welcomed into the living room, the only room that wasn't redone, and Haven's comment that "we're big on nostalgia, you'll see that" is quickly borne out. Living room accoutrements, for example, include a pair of Parisian-made clarinets played by her father in the Tommy Dorsey band, "before they were famous." The wind- up toys on the mantle were her father's, too, as was the six-car Lionel that sits above the maple Shaker cupboards in the kitchen.

The adjacent dining room is fairly spare, though its white walls are enlivened by colorful paintings and plates from their European base of Girona, Spain, 20 miles from the Mediterranean at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains.

On the walls downstairs, where Tyler trains on a stationary bike when the weather keeps him inside, are competition jerseys from the Olympics and from the last day of his first Tour de France. "We framed that because we didn't know if he'd ever get to do that again. Now he's done six," Haven says proudly. She adds that displaying the bicycle memorabilia was her idea; Tyler isn't the sort to show off, she says.

Much of the furniture in the room, whose 19th-century purpose was a kitchen, is recycled, including the cast-iron-stove TV stand. A table on the outer wall was rescued from an art classroom at the old Marblehead High when a new school opened, and a wooden slab in the center of the room is supported by Tyler's changing table from infancy.

In a cranny built into the rough rock ledge are 10 cycles of sentimental value. "That's our garage," Haven says, "because we don't have one."

More contemporary bikes fill a closet nearby. Tyler estimates he's owned almost 100, in part because of the couple's two-home life. "You almost have to have two of everything. It's so much stuff, to the point you have to just leave stuff over there," he says.

Hardwood gleams throughout the house, but nowhere more so than in cycle central. When they were thinking of buying the house, the floor was so filthy they assumed it was dirt. Then the floor refinishers did a little digging and struck wood.

The stairwell, like the one that rises to the two bedrooms and bath on the top floor, is narrow and twisting. Its wallspace is devoted to photography, including photos of Tyler and Lance Armstrong, who teamed together for Armstrong's first three Tour de France victories.

Tyler left that pack last year to be the lead dog in another, the Denmark-based CSC team. He finished 15th as Armstrong won his fourth Tour, but finished second in the Giro d'Italia, the world's second greatest race, despite breaking his shoulder one week into the three- week grind.

He says he chose not to have it examined until the race was done. He took the pain out on his jaw, and is undergoing dental treatment that will include 11 caps for the teeth he ground down. "If you want to know if cycling is hard, ask my dentist," he says with a glint and not a little pride.

In addition to their personal memorabilia, the couple's reverence for the past extends to their choices for living room furniture, such as the TV stand, a 100-year-old, bottom half of a hutch. "All the wood in here is by a guy in Essex," Haven says, checking later to say he's Robert Hanlon of Walker Creek Furniture. "He only uses old wood. Taking the old and making it new. We like that."

In competitive racing, "old" arrives more quickly than in street life. Though Tyler says he'll "keep riding as long as it's fun," the average racer retires at 34 or so. What then? "I hope to stay in the cycling industry," he says. Already, he's linked up with some longtime cycling fans who started Inside Track Tours, a travel company, to exploit their years of traveling the racing circuit.

Tyler says that when he does stop, he won't feel compelled to leap into his next endeavor because he and Haven have managed their finances well, well enough to contemplate retaining their status as two-home owners. Even if they do keep both residences, they said Marblehead will always remain at the end of their road.