Corroboration

On a day when there were fireworks at both the Giro d’Italia and the Amgen Tour of California, the biggest news in cycling came from neither event. CBS News announced that George Hincapie admitted he used EPO and testosterone. Not only that but at times he got both drugs from Lance Armstrong. At other times, Armstrong got both drugs from him.

At first blush, it appears that Hincapie has taken former teammate Tyler Hamilton’s lead and made a public confession. But that’s not what happened. Hincapie’s grand jury testimony was leaked to CBS News. You may recall that when called before the grand jury Hincapie switched attorneys after his initial visit. Conjecture at the time was that he began by stonewalling and when confronted with the testimony others provided, he decided to come clean, to use a turn of phrase, and confess his full knowledge. If what CBS News reports is accurate, Hincapie did indeed make an about-face.

So where does this leave us?

As a witness, no person is more damming to Armstrong’s story than Hincapie. His name and reputation in the sport are sterling. People will fight for the opportunity to discredit either Hamilton or Floyd Landis. But with Hincapie, the opposite is true: People will fight for the opportunity to defend him.

Armstrong spokesman Mark Fabiani has taken a measured approach to the Hincapie revelation, saying they won’t comment on what happened with the grand jury. It’s a punt because if they attack Hincapie, he’ll do what he should be doing right now.

Which is telling the whole of cycling all that he did, all that he knows.

Reached by Cyclingnews, VeloNews, Velonation, etc., Hincapie has steadfastly (Isn’t that how he does everything?) refused to comment on the Novitzky investigation, his testimony or his past. He told the Telegraphe, “I want the focus on the future of the sport, what it’s done to clean itself up. I believe in cycling and want to support it.”

I’m sorry, George, but where doping and cycling are concerned, that’s not really an option.

He has an additional motivation not to confess anything publicly: Unemployment. Even if he only confesses acts that are seven years or more old, a public admission is very likely going to end with him being dismissed from Team BMC.

This is the very problem I wrote about for the LA Times four years ago. If we want to learn the full extent of doping, we must offer those involved (riders, coaches, managers, soigneurs) an incentive. Unemployment doesn’t qualify.

There will always be riders who dope, people whose narcissism and insecurity in their ability, or lack thereof, will drive them to take any step necessary to win. They are in the minority. The bulk of the peloton says they prefer clean racing.

It’s impossible to surmise what Novitzky’s endgame is. Most of the obvious charges against Armstrong are kaput thanks to the statute of limitations. It may be that all Novitzky has left is a smear campaign against Armstrong. After all, who else would leak that testimony? Who else has the motivation? And while a smear might sound childish, the combination of Hincapie’s and Hamilton’s confessions may be all that’s necessary to dry up donations to the LiveStrong foundation. And if LiveStrong folds up shop, we award game, set and match to Novitzky.

Hamilton returned his gold medal to USADA. What’s next? Do we march a goon squad into Armstrong’s place in Austin and start packing up trophies? Rewriting the record books is no solution. I don’t write that because I was a fan of Hamilton or Armstrong when they won, I write that because even riders I didn’t like—Bernard Kohl, for instance—are part of our memory of those events. They are still in the pictures.

Hincapie is right that the sport has done a lot to clean itself up. He could be instrumental in even more progress.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

 

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10 comments

  1. Champs

    Besides unemployment, the other consequence of corroborating the stories of liars, cheats, and cranks puts you in their company.

    Will the clean-cycling absolutists turn on George? Probably, but it’s the wrong thing to do if you want to bust the omertà. You see enough of what that does to the careers of riders who name names.

  2. rollthreefour

    Nice level-headed final graphs, Padraig. Oftentimes it seems all too easy to witch hunt when in fact these circumstances would likely unfold the same way no matter who the cast. Give some Joe a bike, tell him to put food on the table with it, the promise of glory, etc., find me and tell me he wasn’t tempted by the hanging fruit. Hamilton really put his neck out, I strongly applaud that kind of character whereas we have DiLuca’s and Ricco’s in the wings, holding their breath.

  3. LeCashier

    The Bonds conviction for obstruction might have weighed on Hincapie’s and Hamilton’s minds, face a perjury/obstruction of justice charge or protect Armstrong/the code. (Plus Bonds “trainer” spent a lot of time in jail for contempt by not testifying.) Its sad that they both had to face that before telling the truth. It shows the strength of their code of silence.

    I was amazed when Hamilton said, “… like we all did …” in his mea culpa, probably providing Armstrong his best defense, EVERYONE was doping.

    I dont like the smear campaign by the Armstrong camp, its very ugly and makes cleaning up the sport that much harder.

  4. Hank

    “Besides unemployment, the other consequence of corroborating the stories of liars, cheats, and cranks puts you in their company.”

    Aren’t all dopers liars and cheats? Why is Armstrong who is still lying and smearing those who tell the truth any better then Hamilton or Floyd who have come clean, no matter the reason? Hamilton returned his medal. What has Lance done to make right his behavior inside the sport of pro racing?

    Why is LeMond a crank and nutcase for telling the truth when no one wanted to hear it and in contrast Armstrong is portrayed as the poor victim of a “witch hunt”. I guess with a slick enough PR machine you can convince people up is down and right is wrong.

  5. Simon

    If the UCI had really wanted to deal with this issue we’d have seen a truth and reconciliation enquiry years ago. It could have served as a stick in the ground, a marker the back of which the truth could have come out on what’s gone before, and in front of which there were no more excuses, ever. It seemed for a while as though there was hope – when Zabel came out, when Riis spoke up – golden opportunities that men with blinkers seized upon to push any solution back even further.

    If Armstrong has perpetuated the greatest sporting fraud of all time and it does come out, even if the statute of limitations has expired, we can be sure that the press will spend countless thousands of column inches re-examining his every move. I wouldn’t like his life in those circumstances. Think Marco Pantani and Franck Vandenbroucke, times a hundred.

  6. Ben

    Good thoughts… I don’t think stripping titles & confiscating trophies and prizes is the answer either. What’s done is done & as far as most can tell…who gets the prizes? The rest were no cleaner. It’s a nice gesture…Hamilton returning the medal. Now ekimov can have it. Sigh. Some sort of amnesty is due so we can have a clear picture that those years were illegally fueled.
    I assume George used just like everyone else. He wanted a job doing what he loved. I woulda done the same! But George doesn’t run around being smug. He kept quiet but he doesn’t lie to the press… Just ” no comment”. Hopefully George can do some good for all this sh**!

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