Confessed doper, drug cheat, sporting fraud, mentor to young cyclists, and really nice guy George Hincapie has released his memoir of cycling during the Lance Armstrong heyday, “Confessions of a Clean Racer.” WIth a foreword by Michele Ferrari, excerpts have already detailed explosive revelations about the depth and breadth of non-doping practices within the top echelons of the sport.
Cycling in the South Bay was able to reach Hincapie at his villa in the Hamptons for an exclusive interview.
CitSB: Your new memoir, “Confessions of a Clean Racer,” is sure to destroy a lot of long-held perceptions about the pro peloton.
GH: Well, that was the intent. It’s finally time for someone to come clean about the non-doping practices in the sport.
CitSB: Can you be more specific?
GH: Sure. There were days, and once before Lance’s first Tour win in 1999, even an entire week, in which no one doped.
CitSB: No one?
GH: Not a single rider. Not me, not Lance, not Frankie, Tyler, or even Kevin.
GH: Yes, and by the time I moved on, the team had incorporated an entire system of non-doping, strategically placed around Christmas and New Year’s. It was systematic.
CitSB: How did it go from being a one-off “clean day” to organized, methodical, and systematic non-doping?
GH: It was a process. We started off the way everyone does, thinking we could win by taking a full doping regimen. Subcutaneous EPO. Direct injections into the veins and stomach. Kotex sopped in vodka and wedged up each others’ bottoms. And then we realized that if we were really going to compete at the highest level we’d have to race clean. Not every day, certainly, and for sure not even most of the time, but every now and then we’d have to forego the transfusions, corticosteroids, test patches, even the Kotex.
CitSB: So what started as a way to level the playing field … ?
GH: … became a slippery slope that we all slipped down, especially after a couple of beers and some Vaseline. Before we knew it, we were all riding clean at certain points to be prepared for our ultimate objective, which of course was the Tour.
CitSB: When were you first approached about riding clean?
GH: Well, as a junior I’d seen clean racers, I knew they were there, but we didn’t pay attention to them. They were losers. I remember telling Eddy B when he pointed out a couple of guys with very suspicious results and a complete absence of tracks on their forearms that I’d “never stoop to racing clean.” Those were my exact words. And then as a young pro it became clear that there was a handful of riders, the very best guys, who had clean periods during the season. We had a nickname for them, the “Kleenexes.” Get it? Clean? Kleenex?
CitSB: I get it.
GH: You always kind of wondered, “What would happen if I rode clean a day or two a year? Would it supercharge me that much?” And then when Johan took over, he took me aside and was totally blunt. I remember it like it was yesterday.
CitSB: What did he say?
GH: He told me that I could either lay off the daily visits to Ferrari, the wire transfers, the funny little guy on the moto carrying EPO in his panniers, lay off that stuff once or twice a month or I could find myself a new line of work. “Postal Kleenex don’t wipe snot,” was his motto.
CitSB: What was your initial regimen?
GH: One day a month. I started with weak doses of non-doping.
CitSB: What was the effect? This what every SoCal masters racer really wants to know about racing clean.
GH: At first you couldn’t notice it. But then as you upped the dosage of non-doping, as your body got used to detoxing the pot Belge, the Actovegin, the clen, the random shit that the pharmacist mixed up in his garage and carried around in an empty whiskey bottle, you know, gradually you got stronger, until finally you couldn’t race without a clean day, sometimes even a couple of them in the middle of the race.
CitSB: So the team was actually riding clean for periods of the Tour?
GH: Oh, yeah. It was crazy stuff.
CitSB: Weren’t you afraid of getting caught?
GH: Dog, yes. One time a French TV crew followed our soigneurs after we’d had a clean session and videotaped them dumping all of the non-doping substances in a trash can behind a church. They fished out the garbage bags and it was a cornucopia of clean: kale, organic chicken bones, whole milk, banana peels. Then they showed it on prime time TV and called it “How Postal Goes Bananas on the Big Climbs.”
CitSB: You must have thought the jig was up.
GH: Dog, yes. We were terrified. Another time the UCI sent in testers immediately after we’d had a three-day regimen of non-doping. We were so scared we’d test negative that we were shooting up everything we had, hoping it would hit the bloodstream in time for the testers. Lance is the only one who came up negative, but fortunately he got Dr. Moral to backdate a prescription for rest, vegetables, water, and some bread. And Hein Verbruggen accepted the backdated scrip.
CitSB: Pretty funny, but also scary. Weren’t you worried about the health effects?
GH: Yes and no. We had docs, we trusted them. They seemed convinced that even if we were clean up to 50% of the time our bodies could recover from it with the proper administration of the right potentially lethal doping cocktails.
CitSB: When did you realize that USADA was going to bring down Lance, along with you, Levi, Jonathan, and the rest?
GH: Of course we had all gotten used to Betsy’s tirades; people had been accusing us of non-doping for years. But Lance seemed to have it on lockdown, she was portrayed as this crazy woman with a vendetta, kind of an Internet-troll-meets-National-Enquirer-meets-Joan-Rivers-at-a-Tweeker-party, right? And the media bought it. But then when Floyd admitted to non-doping and the Feds got involved, shit got real. We had to decide whether we were going to keep pretending that we’d never raced clean, or take what was a very sweet deal.
CitSB: And you took the deal.
GH: Obviously. We were all perfectly happy to finger the guy who had brought us all our success and fame if all we had to do keep our jobs and our money was admit to non-doping. I mean, Levi’s laughing all the way to the bank. So am I, by the way. Okay, not laughing. But certainly smiling.
CitSB: So where does this put you in 2014? There are a lot of people who believe that George Hincapie and people like him have no place in the sport today.
GH: I can see their point, but I look at it differently. Cycling gave me everything and I want to give something back. I’ve learned from the bad things I’ve done, I’ve admitted to having raced clean, I’ve been punished, and it’s no coincidence that I run a U-23 development team. Someone who these kids respect has to be able to tell them that times have changed, that it’s no longer acceptable to non-dope, and that when the time comes — and it will come — they’ll have to stand firm against the non-dopers. Because they’re still out there. Not as many as there once were, but it’s a part of the culture, unfortunately.
CitSB: Thanks, George.
GH: You’re welcome.
CitSB: If I mail you one of my cycling jerseys would you sign it for me?
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