Hincapie, here for Chattanooga Bicycle Club's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge, says Armstrong is sorry

Hincapie, here for Chattanooga Bicycle Club's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge, says Armstrong is sorry

May 3rd, 2014 by Jim Tanner in Local Regional News

Cyclists look at bikes and equipment at Finley Stadium during Friday's expo and packet pick-up for Saturday's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge bike ride.

Photo by Photo: Jim Tanner

Cyclists George Hincapie, left, and Lance Armstrong on the podium after the fourth stage of the Tour de France race in Arras, France, in 2005. Hincapie is in Chattanooga this weekend to ride in the 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Former professional cyclist George Hincapie, left, meets with fans at Finley Stadium during Friday's expo and packet pick-up for Saturday's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge bike ride.

Photo by Photo: Jim Tanner

3-STATE, 3-MOUNTAIN GETS A BOOST

After rain and several accidents -- including one fatality -- marred last year's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge, ride director Dawn Salyer said Friday that she's been pleased with a late surge in registration for today's ride.

"We've had a bump [in registration]," Salyer said Friday during the packet pickup and expo at Finley Stadium. "As the weather warmed and people got out training, they got the bug. We're up to a little over 1,200, and more people are still registering.

"The weather is always a factor and this is going to be a rebuilding year for us. After last year, I expected to go down, but now the word will get out about how great it was ... and it will build again."

Salyer said that she's gotten positive feedback about route changes that will now bring riders down Nickajack Road off Lookout Mountain instead of Ochs Highway and detours around the congested St. Elmo area.

"Safety is always first, so we've worked with Sgt. [Austin] Garrett with the police department," she said. "We found a way to get around safely ... and we'll have plenty of coverage at the intersections.

"We're here to give everyone what they want [from the ride]. We're just hoping for fewer runs to the hospital this year."

For years, George Hincapie helped Lance Armstrong win bicycle races, including seven Tour de France victories from 1999 to 2005.

He also helped keep some of Armstrong's darkest secrets -- secrets about performance-enhancing drugs that were pervasive in cycling during the 1990s and 2000s.

Hincapie saw first hand, and participated in the use of PEDs during his time as Armstrong's teammate on the U.S. Postal and Discovery pro cycling teams in a doping program that eventually drew the attention of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

"I was thrown into the fire, so to speak, and of course I had choices and I made the mistake of crossing the line," Hincapie said Friday at a reception at Finley Stadium. "But then, I feel like I've played a part in changing the sport, and I saw a change in the sport, a culture change long before any of the USADA stuff happened."

In the end, Hincapie ended his career riding clean, and his testimony to USADA played a major role in Armstrong's downfall in 2012 and his being stripped of his victories and banned from the sport for life.

Hincapie is in town this weekend to ride in the Chattanooga Bicycle Club's 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge, which will have more than 1,200 participants riding the roads of the Chattanooga area today starting at Finley Stadium with climbs over Raccoon, Sand and Lookout mountains.

At the end of the month, Hincapie will release a book detailing his life and cycling career. "The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris" will go on sale May 27 and tell the story of Hincapie's childhood, his career as a pro cyclist and how he came to use PEDs and finally reject doping for the final years of his pro career.

"I want to tell my story about how that change happened and how it's not really an issue anymore," he said. "Of course there are still people doping now, but it's not the majority any more. The last part of my career was focused on that change and being able to still win races and help some of the best riders in the world win races."

"I hope young riders can read my book and say, 'Wow, that was a really screwed up era. I'm glad I don't have to go through that anymore.'"

Hincapie and Armstrong still have a good relationship, and Armstrong even wrote the forward to "The Loyal Lieutenant" for Hincapie, who unlike Armstrong remains highly regarded and involved in the sport despite his admission of doping. Hincapie said he thinks Armstrong is sorry for his actions and gets too much blame for an era in which almost everyone in pro cycling was involved in doping to some extent.

"I think he truly is sorry for the way he treated people, and that's the biggest thing," Hincapie said. "He was very aggressive in denials, and he was kind of put in that position where he had to be. I mean for a while he was the voice of cycling.

"Of course he took it to a whole different level, and he really is sorry for that and I think he wants to right those wrongs. But to blame him for 100 years of doping also is not fair, and I really think he is being blamed for all of it."

Rather than focus on the past, Hincapie hopes that after reading his book everyone can begin to move forward to a new era of cycling without the specter of doping hanging over everything.

"Pointing fingers at anybody right now is not going to help," he said. "I think we've gone past that era, and now what we can do is learn from that era like we have from the history of our world.

"We learn from our mistakes, and we move on. I think to keep placing blame is not going to help anyone."

After staying out of the public eye for several months, Armstrong has made tentative steps back into the limelight. He recently made a "How to Fix a Flat" video for Outside Magazine that poked fun at himself and his current situation. Hincapie said that he thinks Armstrong still can do good things and inspire cancer patients with his story of surviving the disease in the 1990s.

"He did have cancer, and he was on his death bed," Hincapie said of Armstrong. "And he beat that with the same type of passion that he had in cycling, and unfortunately with people sometimes who were attacking him.

"That attitude of the fight -- he still has that. He still could do a lot of good for people going through cancer, and I think he wants to get back in that world. Certainly a lot of people can talk to him about what he went through when he had cancer, and I think he can still help a lot of people."

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.