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George Hincapie, namesake for this weekend’s Gran Fondo Hincapie in Greensville, South Carolina, said that former teammate Lance Armstrong had prior authorization from “the appropriate governing body” to ride in the event.
Because of his lifetime ban, Armstrong’s planned attendance drew the attention of USADA and USA Cycling, with the national federation issuing a statement Thursday that, according to WADA Code, Armstrong is prohibited from participating from any event sanctioned by the national federation.
Following this news, Hincapie issued a statement of his own Thursday, expressing disappointment, and claiming that someone from the Hincapie fondo had reached out to “the appropriate governing body,” and had that Armstrong had been given “the green light” to participate.
“Lance will not be joining us at the Fondo this year. More then a month ago we conferred with what we thought was the appropriate governing body regarding his participation. At that time we were given the green light for him to ride. Our intent was never to cause a stir, but we are disappointed to learn they’ve reversed course at the eleventh hour. We will of course comply with the ruling, and look forward to a great event Saturday.”
Asked for further clarification, Hincapie did not wish to specify which “appropriate governing body” had been contacted.
When asked if, at any point in the past few months, anyone from Hincapie’s fondo had reached out to USA Cycling to enquire about Armstrong’s participation in the USA Cycling-sanctioned event, USA Cycling’s director of communications, Bill Kellick, told VeloNews via email, “We had no prior knowledge… No one here gave him a green light to participate.”
USA Cycling’s website lists the Hincapie Fondo as permitted as a “Fun Ride or Tour,” rather than a competitive event that would submit results to the National Rankings System.
Shawn Farrell, who was fired from USA Cycling last week after 11 years in the role of technical director, overseeing the federation’s rules and regulations, explained that it is essentially impossible for the federation to proactively enforce suspensions or bans from “fun ride or tour” events.
“Nobody [at USA Cycling] is specifically responsible for that,” Farrell told VeloNews earlier this week. “USA Cycling has 3,000 events, and no staff can scan all start lists. Normally the licensing solves that problem. Gran fondos are challenging, as people don’t need licenses. But then the same thing can happen when a rider just fills out a one-day app and creates a separate account.”
Armstrong had intended to reunite with several former U.S. Postal Service teammates, including Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, and Kevin Livingston, as well as several active American professional riders including Tejay van Garderen, Brent Bookwalter, and Larry Warbasse (BMC Racing), Tom Danielson and Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), and Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing).
Although Hincapie testified before USADA in 2012 that he, and Armstrong, had used performance-enhancing drugs together, he made a point in his sworn affidavit to say that he continues to hold Armstrong in “high regard.”
“I continue to regard Lance Armstrong as a great cyclist, and I continue to be proud to be his friend and to have raced with him for many years,” Hincapie said in 2012. “I do not condemn Lance for making those choices, and I do not wish to be condemned for the choices I made.”
Armstrong has not responded to requests for comment.
As a non-competitive event, the Hincapie fondo is in no way required to be sanctioned through USA Cycling; the sanctioning amounts to rider insurance coverage, which USA Cycling offers to myriad cycling events.