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This weekend, at a gran fondo in Greenville, South Carolina, several members of the former U.S. Postal Service team will ride together again.
Four members of the USPS team that won the 1999 Tour de France — Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, and Kevin Livingston — will reunite at the October 25 Gran Fondo Hincapie.
Former Postal/Discovery Channel team members Michael Barry and Tom Danielson will also be attending. Though initially listed as a participant, former USPS rider David Zabriskie has said he will not be able to make the trip.
Mixed with this group are several notable names from the younger generation of American racers, including Tejay van Garderen, Brent Bookwalter, and Larry Warbasse, all of BMC Racing, Hincapie’s last team as a professional.
American WorldTour riders Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp) and Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) are also participating.
Two years and two weeks after USADA’s Reasoned Decision rocked the foundation of American cycling, it’s a notable list of riders, past and present, who are attending — particularly four who testified about Armstrong’s drug use, and their own, in the USADA report.
Since the USADA report was released, those involved have gone in disparate directions. Hincapie retired, and now runs an apparel company, which sponsors a successful development team. Vande Velde served a six-month off-season suspension, raced in 2013, and then retired; he’s now a race announcer for NBC Sports. Danielson served a six-month off-season suspension, and continues to race, and win, for Garmin-Sharp. Livingston, who was a member of the USPS team but did not testify in the USADA report, serves in the role of competition director for Georgia-based race organizer Medalist Sports; he also runs the Pedal Hard Training Center in Austin, Texas, in the basement of the Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop owned by Armstrong. Barry and Zabriskie have maintained relatively low profiles, with Zabriskie competing this year in Race Across America and the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race.
Armstrong was banned for life and stripped of his Tour victories; within a week of the USADA report’s release, he lost millions in sponsorship revenue, as well as his seat at the Livestrong Foundation, which he founded.
The event, however, is more about Hincapie than Armstrong. The gran fondo bears Hincapie’s name, and this list of riders attending, which spans generations, speaks to the friendships he has cultivated over the years.
American riders from the USPS team who testified in the USADA case, but are not attending, include Levi Leipheimer, Frankie Andreu, Jonathan Vaughters, and Tyler Hamilton.
In today’s post-confessional environment, there are critics who will argue that a team of young riders should not be sponsored by an apparel company owned by George Hincapie, or that he should not be organizing a gran fondo.
Whether or not that is a valid argument is ultimately a matter of opinion; Hincapie “served” his six-month USADA suspension in retirement, and is in no way prohibited from being involved in professional cycling, as a sponsor or team director, as Armstrong is, due to his lifetime ban.
Armstrong is also banned from any sanctioned competitive events. USA Cycling’s website lists the Hincapie Fondo as permitted as a “Fun Ride or Tour,” rather than a competitive event which has “agreed to submit results to the National Rankings System.”
And while some might assume that riders from the younger generation would choose to disassociate themselves from riders who admitted to drug use, in this instance, that is not the case.
VeloNews reached out to several of those pros, past and present, who are participating, for comment.
Most, including Armstrong and Hincapie, addressed their involvement with event, either via email, phone, or in person, while a few — Vande Velde and Livingston — did not.
Some addressed the inherent awkwardness of the reunion, others did not.
Their replies follow below.
George Hincapie (via email): The Fondo is not supposed to have an intended or implied message; at least that’s not what we are shooting for. It’s just a celebration of cycling with friends and fans that also supports what we feel are important causes. Last year we hosted 20 or so veterans from Operation Shift Gears, and financial proceeds purchased more than 6,000 meals for our Meals on Wheels chapter. We hope for even more this year. The Fondo also helps promote what a great region this is for cycling, and brings people here to ride. It even gets people who may have never thought about getting on a bike to challenge themselves and try it out. I have a few personal friends that are now totally into cycling as a result of the event, and it has changed their life. To me that’s what it’s all about. I know I’ve made mistakes along with some of the other riders in attendance, but I believe in, and hope for, second chances for everyone. I’m very fortunate to count many former and current professionals as friends, and will leave it to my peers to decide how they regard me, and the event.
Lance Armstrong (via email): I’m going because George is a good friend and he asked me to come. He’s been awfully supportive of Anna and mine’s work with Wapiyapi [a small private fundraising dinner and ride], so I wanted to return the favor. Regarding the others, I’m ambivalent.
Michael Barry (via email): l am not sure there is much to say. Like in any walk of life, I’ve remained friends with a few of the guys, notably Christian and George. Our lives have all moved on in different ways. Some guys I was close with, others I never speak with.
Dave Zabriskie (by phone): George is a friendly guy, he’s nice to everyone, people like him. That’s why so many people are going. If I could be there, I would be. I don’t think the younger guys see George as someone to be scared of, or scared of associating with, I think they see him as someone they can learn from.
These [former USPS teammates] spent a lot of years together. You can’t just wipe that away. There’s a lot of baggage in the past, but I think some friendships can transcend that. Some people out there, maybe they can’t move on past what happened, but for some of these guys, they are able to move forward. It’s interesting that Lance, if anyone, can put it all in the past and move on.
Tejay Van Garderen (by phone): I can see the curiosity of people, wondering why we would choose to associate ourselves. It was frustrating for me to learn about all the stuff that happened in the past, and I think I was right there, with a lot of people, being angry about the news that had come out. But after a while, after I had had some time to digest … Thor Hushovd said to me once, in regards to Lance, ‘If I had a family member, or friend, who committed a crime and went to prison, I wouldn’t support what they did — but I would still go visit them in prison.’ And I agree with that.
With a lot of these guys … nothing they can do will make up for what they did, but I don’t think that necessarily makes them bad people. I also look at the good that they have done. Levi has raised money with his gran fondo, which he gives back to his community. Christian has been helping out with setting up an American seat on the CPA, the pro riders union. He’s not getting a dime from that, and he’s not racing, he’s retired, he just wants to see the sport improve.
As for George, I roomed with him at the 2012 Tour de France. I shared a lot of special moments with George, and you can’t just turn your back on all of that, because of something that happened 10 years ago.
I think the healthy, and positive thing, for the younger generation of riders to do is to accept, and forgive, and maybe not forget, but to move forward. These people are human beings, and we’re moving on. I think the worst thing for people to do is to hold a pep rally at the USA Pro Challenge to go and flip off Tom Danielson.
Lance lives down the block from me, in Aspen. We’ve gone on some rides together, he’s even motorpaced me behind his Vespa. I don’t feel like there’s any hidden agenda there. He still loves the sport, and wants to see it get better. I don’t think he is the evil guy he’s been depicted to be, in all these books and movies, but I suppose that is ultimately going to be left up for people to decide for themselves.
Lance took the brunt [of the USADA investigation], much harder than anyone else, and in my opinion, he might deserve a bit of a break. To say whether he deserves equal punishment to everyone else, that’s not up to me to decide.
Alex Howes (in person): I don’t know. I feel like I’m playing kind of the ignorance card when I say I don’t really think about it. But I really don’t. Like those guys, guys like Vande Velde and Hincapie and Zabriskie and that Lance guy. With as involved in the sport as they were for so many years, unless the world was flat and they could just fall off the edge, they’re really not going to be going anywhere too fast. And for us younger guys, this newer generation, it’s been kind of a balancing act. Learning how to be friends with them, help them kind of reintegrate into clean cycling. And also kind of create our own identity I suppose, as a generation. And it’s not easy, and I feel like we’re doing a relatively good job. I’m pretty proud of where we are from a results standpoint. From an ethical standpoint … Where we stay in our little bubble, how we relate to the rest of population, I don’t know. It’s complicated. It’s absolutely not black and white.
Larry Warbasse (via email): It’s a pretty cool event. I went there the first year they had it (two years ago) and it was a great time. The ride is a great way to show off the town of Greenville and its surrounding areas (a place I spent two of my winters training and think of very fondly) and it also supports a great local charity, Meals on Wheels, which is awesome. It is a pretty impressive list of riders attending the Fondo, I think it speaks volumes to how respected of a guy George is.
In regards to the relationships we (the younger generation of American riders) have with George and some of the other riders attending, I can only speak for myself.
During the two winters I spent in Greenville, I trained with George nearly every day. I got to know him very well as a person and consider him a close friend. I also rode with his development team in 2012, the year before I turned pro. Many tend to look for the worst in people. I, however, tend to look at the best. Many people have a hard time realizing that good people can make bad decisions. George is a great person. He made some bad decisions in his past. But he also has done worlds for the sport to try to right his wrongs, by giving back to the sport and helping young riders. His development team is a great example of that. I did not know him at the time when he made those decisions, I met him after he decided to race clean. People look to crucify George and others for the past, but I think our energy can be better utilized by working towards the future.
Brent Bookwalter (via email): At the end of the day, my support of George’s ride is about being there for him as a friend, just as he was for me during the time when we were teammates, and after. It is equally about supporting the ride itself, which makes a significant charitable contribution and is a staple event in the Southeast part of the country where I reside for much of the year. George has been gracious enough to support our ride, the Bookwalter Binge, and our charitable fundraising goals as well. It is nice that we can exchange support with each other in these areas after being supportive teammates in years past.
Matthew Busche (via email): I recently moved [to Brevard, N.C.] and have quickly come to realize how great the riding is around here in terms of quality and beauty. I did a small, local group ride in September (Tour d’Apple) and met some great people and rode some amazing roads that I didn’t know existed in basically my own backyard. I am doing George’s fondo this coming weekend, and the Bookwalter Binge the following weekend, as a way to promote cycling as a whole, promote cycling in this area, and as a friend to George and Brent. I’m excited to see some of the roads in the area I haven’t been on and I look forward to good weather, fall colors, and great company.
Tom Danielson (via email): This is my second year doing George’s fondo and I’m really looking forward to it. Greenville is a beautiful part of the country to ride in, and George’s fondo does a great job showcasing it, and does a lot for charity as part of it. It’s a great event, it gets people from all over the place involved in and excited about cycling, and that’s what it’s all about.