Nine months ago, West Australian cyclist Ben O’Connor was at a crossroads in his career.
I was sat at my desk having completed a long article on George Hincapie. It was late. I was tired. Towards the end I’d included some quotes from Hincapie’s one-time teammate Frankie Andreu which I’d received in an email from Andreu.
I then decided to try to contact Hincapie to let him put his side of the story. He replied.
This is the full conversation. Nothing has been edited other than spelling and George’s offer to call me, which we never got round to. Bear in mind this was a messenger conversation so there were lags in replies.
Some background is required first, however.
George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong and Frankie Andreu were all teammates on the Motorola team in the early to mid 90s, then again on the US Postal squad (Andreu was there 1998-2000).
Andreu is married to Betsy Andreu, the woman who has stated on many occasions that Armstrong admitted to taking several banned substanced and to blood doping in a hospital room when he was informed that he had cancer.
Hincapie retired from cycling in 2013 after serving a six-month ban for admitting that he had also used EPO, until (he claims) 2005.
On February 2, 2014, an article appeared in the Detroit Free Press (the Andreus’ hometown) in which Hincapie stated that it was Andreu, not Armstrong, that had been the motivating figure in his decision to dope himself.
Andreu denies this and claims that Hincapie apologised for saying this in a phone call that took place after the article was published.
Earlier this year, Juliet Mancur’s book ‘The Cycle of Lies’ was published, which deals with the Armstrong affair and includes interviews with Hincapie in which he appears to contradict himself in regards to certain matters.
“He [Hincapie] apologised 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”
Any comment? This will run tomorrow, apologies for short notice but this just came up…
George Hincapie: The last two are untrue. Sorry.
LR: These? – ‘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’?
GH: Correct. Lance didn’t put me up to anything. Also he said if I remembered it that way then it very well may have happened 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 apologised for interview. I asked him to please meet with me and clarity exactly what happen, because that’s how I remembered it.
We still haven’t met or spoke. Since then. Hopefully one day. He did confirm some instances in my book.
LR: Ok noted. You do contradict yourself though in the [Juliet] Macur book [Cycle of Lies]. page 219:
GH: He agreed that we all have different memories on what exactly happened. But he did confirm some of the instances. He respected that and seemed willing to discuss it. Again, hopefully him and I can sit down and discuss one day soon.
LR: ‘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.”
GH: Yes, that is correct.
LR: “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 this meant 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…”
GH: The timeline may be off.
LR: Lance said it was ’95 when he decided to dope.
GH: Since it was so long ago, but that happened.
LR: Yet it states that you found the vials in 96.
GH: Yes, but Frankie was my roommate and I didn’t start at the same time Lance Armstrong did.
LR: Ok, noted. Betsy [Andreu] has said that “the journalist admitted to me” that LA put you in touch with her.’
GH: My apologies but it was almost 20 years ago. The exact dates I don’t remember. I just remember how when seeing it in my fridge shocked me.
Does that mean Lance Armstrong put me up to it?
LR: She says that he put you two in touch, therefore that’d mean that he [Armstrong] set up the meeting.
GH: Again he gave her the number, does that mean he put me up to it?
LR: Why that the newspaper [The Detroit Free Press] though? Of all the newspapers in the world, it’s their [the Andreu’s] hometown newspaper.
GH: Am I not able to make my own choices? I am an adult. I do regret it, and wish I could have just spoke to Frankie.
LR: Ok, did you know her [the journalist at the Detroit paper, Kirsten Jordan Shamus] before Armstrong gave you her number?
GH: They both have gone through enough.
LR: For sure, I’m sure it’s easy on no one, but cycling also went through a lot, and the fans, and people want to know what happened and how. That’s my feeling too, I’m a writer but also a rider, and a fan.
GH: Those are my memories of what happened.
LR: Ok noted.
GH: Agreed 100 per cent. Sometime the whole truth is not what people want to know.
LR: I have one last thing to ask: you gave evidence to the federal investigation in 2009 I believe, so you’d have known that after that, at some time, your use of EPO would come out.
LR: Ok – why not retire then, in 2010? Why did you continue til 2012? It’s a genuine question.
GH: Because I had been racing clean since 2006. Helping others win some of the biggest races in the world. I still had a lot to give to my teammates and cycling.
LR: Ok. You know some people feel that those who’ve doped should not be involved in cycling now, any thoughts?
GH: Everyone has a right to there opinions. I am just trying to help young riders make it to the next level. Because I believe in cycling and love cycling and want to give back to the sport and my team at Hincapie Development. We have won the biggest races in the USA so far and I’m very proud of them. They race like a family. That is my passion…
LR: Can I ask one last question? What was the withdrawl like from being on all those drugs to being on nothing: was it difficult emotionally or physically? Was it possible still to race at a high level because the rest had cut back on doping also?
GH: Not at all. I was passionate about stopping and even more passionate about trying to influence others to stop, and even more passionate about still being successful in the sport. Helping some of the best riders in the world win some of the biggest races in the world. You should ask them what they thought of me. Think of me. Have a good day.
LR: Thanks George.