I do not know where to start when it comes to George Hincapie. Ex-Lance Armstrong teammate, ongoing Lance apologist, ex-doper, supergrass, writer, hotelier, clothing entrepreneur, and team sponsor.
George wears so many hats that we really shouldn’t be surprised that even he gets confused from time to time as to which one he’s wearing.
Let’s start then with the facts. George was a pro rider from 1994 to 2012. He rode for Motorola, US Postal, Team High Road and BMC Racing.
His didn’t win a great deal apart from Gent-Wevelgem and came close in a big Classic or two, though he was national road race champion of the USA three times over his 18 year career. He also finished 17 Tours de France.
He is most famous as being, for much of his career, Lance Armstrong’s faithful domestique and for being a fully committed doper for (according to him) at least a decent chunk of his career.
He was doped good too, by the best. The very best.
His status on Wikipedia, next to ‘Team:’ reads ‘Retired’.
Whereas his former team leader received a lifetime ban for using illicit substances, George got nothing more than a 6 month ban thanks to ‘co-operating’ with the federal investigation into US Postal and Discovery.
Funny how people ‘co-operate’ when they could potentially be facing a prison sentence for perjury if they fail to ‘co-operate’.
And so, once his ban ended, George retired.
Before he retired though, Hincapie was afforded the luxury of leading the peloton onto the Champs Elysees in his 17th and final, record-breaking Tour de France.
A fairytale ending in every sense.
Except that, well, by October, George, whom had stayed clear of doping accusations more or less throughout his career, ‘admitted’ to having doped for many years.
“It is extremely difficult today to acknowledge that during a part of my career I used banned substances,” read George’s statement at the time.
“Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them. I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologize to my family, teammates and fans.”
And yet, what George doesn’t seem to realize is that ‘that choice’ was one he made every single time he pushed the needle into the vial and every time he popped a pill.
This is something that just about every doper tries to do: to claim that they came to a point where they had to make a choice, and that once that terrible, shocking moment came and they decided ‘I will dope’ – there was no turning back.
Rather than face up to what they were doing and stop, retire, or – shock horror – tell the truth, they chose instead the far easier route of doping continuously.
I feel sorry for them, I do, these poor guys who had to dope, had to deprive honest riders from a living, had to collect salaries, prize money, adulation and admiration from the fans, and then retire to nice houses in beautiful places.
One of the many problems I have with the Legend of George is that he went on dragging the sport through the mud and breaking records when he already knew the guillotine was being sharpened.
In his statement about his doping past, released in October 2012, he wrote:
“Three years ago , I was approached by U.S. federal investigators, and more recently by USADA, and asked to tell of my personal experience in these matters. I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did.”
“Obligated” to tell the truth. Forced might be far more apt.
Anyway, George therefore knew for at least his last two Tours de France that he would, at some point very soon, be outed for doping. He knew it was coming, and yet he carried on regardless, taking in the accolades and leading the peloton into Paris with an EPO-eating grin on his face.
I asked Hincapie why he didn’t retire in 2010 when he knew the truth would out eventually.
“Because I had been racing clean since 2006,” he replied. “Helping others win some of the biggest races in the world. I still had a lot to give to my teammates and cycling.”
What of those who believe that he had a greater responsibility to bow out of the sport immediately, and that those who have been caught doping should not be involved again in any way with the sport?
“Everyone has a right to their opinions,” he replied. “I am just trying to help young riders make it to the next level. Cause I believe in cycling and love cycling and want to give back to the sport.”
In an interview after his career ended in Paris, in front of an adoring public, he spoke about how he’d conducted himself in his career.
“I’ve always tried to do the right thing for the sport. Right now I’m here to do my job and I’m going to try and focus on that.”
No George, you haven’t always tried to do the right thing for the sport.
You did the right thing for George. Always. In Armstrong you had the perfect mentor for that, too.
And the sport got screwed every which way regardless.
In his statement where he reacted to his ban, he wrote:
“While I understand that the choices we made were wrong, I understand why we made them and why, at the time, we felt justified in making them. I do not condemn Lance for making these choices, and I do not wish to be condemned for the choices I made.”
And so, it seems, dreams really do come true. Why?
Well, because George is still doing very well for himself. Book on its way out, hotel doing well, getting freebies from bike brands and sponsoring a team. And, in line with George’s wish, very few seem ready to condemn what he did.
The team that George is funding is the Hincapie Development Team, whose motto is ‘Building the Future of Cycling.’
This, from a man who admitted in his own admission statement, when you think a bit of contrition might finally be called for, said that he ‘felt justified’ in doping.
‘Felt justified in making choices’. Yet more obfuscation.
The Hincapie Development Team has a whopping 36 sponsors, including Giro, ParkTool, Shimano and Lake Shoes. I’m all for new backers coming into cycling, but might there be something of a skewed message being sent out here? Might George’s past not be enough to bar him from being connected with a professional cycling team, and one aimed at ‘developing’ young riders?
No, of course not – because such a rule does not exist.
Imagine an Armstrong Development Team? A Pantani Development Team? An Ulrich Development Team?
Impossible. So why is there a Hincapie Development Team?
“I am just trying to help young riders make it to the next level,” said Hincapie in response to my question as to whether a former doper should be funding a cycling team. “’Cause I believe in cycling and love cycling and want to give back to the sport.”
Regarding his doping past, there are some inaccuracies with some important elements in his timeline.
On page 219 in Juliet Macur’s book, Cycle of Lies, Macur writes that “Hincapie said he and Andreu were on Motorola in 1996 when he found a thermos filled with glass vials in [Andreu’s] refrigerator. Andreu first said the vials were substances that would help recovery. Hincapie got him to admit that it was EPO.”
” ‘He was my role model, and I started doing EPO because of him,’ Hincapie said.”
Hincapie very clearly here states that it was Andreu that provided him with the motivation to dope.
Yet on page 345 of the same book Hincapie contradicts himself, by stating that the decision to take EPO came about in 1995 and had very little or indeed nothing to do with Frankie Andreu.
“When Hincapie sat with investigators after that Tour , he quoted Armstrong from 1995. ‘This is bullshit,’ Armstrong told him. ‘People are using stuff.’ “
“Hincapie said he had understood that to mean Armstrong wanted the Motorola team to us EPO. So Armstrong went to Ferrari, and Hincapie eventually followed. He recounted Frankie Andreu telling him where to buy EPO and how to use it…”
Perhaps Max Testa can shed some light on these contradictions, perhaps not, but much like the admissions of other dopers about how and when they doped, inaccuracies and contradictions exist that lead us to doubt the validity of these statements, and, therefore, of everything else too.
Intriguingly, in Hincapie’s deposition to the federal investigators, which ran to over 1000 pages, there is only one mention of Andreu and EPO, and that Hincapie did not say that it was Andreu who had introduced him to the drug.
However, Hincapie clearly states, when talking about 1995 (and not 1996) that “I understand that he [Lance] meant the team had to get on EPO.”
George replied to my question regarding these contradictions, saying that “The timeline may be off. Since it was so long ago, but that happened.”
He also said that he did not start to dope when Lance Armstrong did, but a year later, in 1996.
Hincapie, as it is well known, is an Armstrong apologist, one of the posse of former associates that see little or nothing wrong in what the Texan (and by extension they themselves) did in those days.
Could George still be digging in for Lance? Still be hoisting bottles up the side of the pack for his old boss? Could he be deliberately trying to besmirch Frankie and Betsy Andreu?
When Hincapie gave an interview, one of very few he’s done, to the Detroit Free Press journalist Kirsten Jordan Shamus in January of this year, it seemed an odd choice.
Was it a coincidence that the paper is based in the same hometown of the Andreus?
Was it also a coincidence that it was in this interview that Hincapie first contradicted his statements to the federal investigation about it being Andreu, and not Armstrong, that had introduced him to EPO?
I asked Hincapie why he would choose The Detroit Free Press of all papers to give an interview, when it is a newspaper located in the Andreu’s hometown.
“Am I not able to make my own choices? I am an adult. I do regret it, and wish I could of just spoke to Frankie.”
For the record, Betsy Andreu has claimed that she contacted Hincapie on three separate occasions since the article came out, but has not yet received a reply.
In his blog, Steve Tilford recounts a conversation with Armstrong in which he recalls asking Lance about the Detroit Free Press interview.
“I didn’t understand the upside for George to be talking to Frankie’s local paper and throwing rocks,” writes Tilford. “I asked Lance why George did that and Lance said he didn’t really know why.”
And yet Hincapie confirmed that it was indeed Lance Armstrong that put the pair in touch.
“He [LA] gave her the number, does that mean he put me up to it?” asked Hincapie.
In the epilogue of Juliet Macur’s book, on page 396, Lance is quoted as saying this:
“I hated those motherf***ers – the Betsys, the LeMonds, Walsh, I hate him….I STILL hate them.”
In email correspondence, Frankie Andreu stated the following:
“As for the Detroit paper, George and Lance are out to smear me. Before everyone talked about themselves but recently they are talking about me. They are not speaking about others in the USADA report, just me.
“After the Detroit paper [article], George called me and we spoke. He apologized to me and said he shouldn’t have done the interview. I told him that I didn’t teach him how to dope and that he knew that was a flat out lie. He agreed he shouldn’t have said that.
“Lance put him up to it and it’s typical to try and discredit us because we have been outspoken and won’t back down to the never ending smear campaign.”
Hincapie, for his part, denied that he ever agreed that he agreed that it was not Andreu who taught him to dope, nor that Armstrong put him up to making the original claim.
“Lance didn’t put me up to anything,” says Hincapie.
“Also he said if I remembered it that way then it very well may of happen that way. I just don’t agree with last two things he said. It’s not true. I don’t want anyone to suffer anymore. Pointing fingers won’t help anyone. That is why I apologized for [the] interview. I asked him to please meet with me and clarity exactly what happened, cause that’s how I remembered it. We still haven’t met or spoke, since then. Hopefully one day.”
I do feel that Hincapie regrets the interview and that he is genuine when he says that the Andreus have suffered too much already, but regret counts for little to nothing when the damage is long done.
Hopefully one day, our sport will sort itself out. With characters like Hincapie still around, that may take quite some time.