Who Would You Invite?

El Tour de Tucson, Tucson’s best-known cycling event, released a photo of their special guest riders at the 2023 event. The riders are (l-r) George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, Rahsaan Bahati, Mari Holden, Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich and Bob Roll. Their cycling achievements are the dreams of everyone who has raced a bike. They’ve won Olympic medals, National Championships, Grand Tour stages, not to mention some of the most prestigious one-day races on the planet.

However, four of these riders were exposed as dopers as a result of the many investigations that culminated in Lance Armstrong’s downfall. Hincapie and Vande Velde were part of Armstrong’s team (US Postal) and doping program, while Voigt and Julich were teammates at another team (CSC) and part of its doping program, and their team was run by an admitted doper, Bjarne Riis.

Put simply, these four cyclists are part of the darkest chapter in professional cycling. I don’t want to rehash their many sins against cycling, but each of these guys maintained that they rode clean until someone else outed them. It’s hard to say any of them especially suffered at the revelation.

Let’s contrast that with Tyler Hamilton who, when faced with a grand jury—the same grand jury Hincapie and Vande Velde faced—told the truth (albeit for the first time, following years of lies) and the whole of it. And he told quite a story; his testimony was the single most important step in exposing all of the systematic and systemic doping that was going on in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Hamilton isn’t celebrated the way these riders are. I’ve never seen him standing alongside these guys at some charity ride. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I do wonder why. Why is it that Hamilton and Floyd Landis are generally spoken of in villainous tones, but Hincapie, who rode at Armstrong’s hip for every one of his Tour wins, is largely exempt from criticism? Is it that we turn on anyone who is caught? Or is it that we turn on those who confess? Or is it that every enemy of Armstrong’s is our enemy?

My gut tells me there’s something primal at work here, a Darwinian sense of being okay with the slowest of the wildebeest being gobbled by the lion. It strikes me as a mob mentality that reflects our ugliest urges.

Why don’t we value the complete admission? Why do we frown on the guy who finally comes clean and stops fighting?

I’d prefer to appeal to our better nature. Cycling, as a culture, as a community, shouldn’t turn its back on any of these riders. There should be room for forgiveness, rehabilitation, amends.

But I’m over the notion of cycling heroes. The guys I used to think I wanted to introduce my sons, to? Nah. That said, if I were putting on a ride and my sons were going to be at the ride, I’d give some thought to what it would say about me based on who I invited, who I introduced my sons to.

I’d invite Tyler. What he did required guts, resurrected integrity and the strength to move past his shame and embarrassment (and we all know how hard it is to suck that up).

I’d invite the guy who admitted he was wrong and has spent the intervening years attempting to make amends. I’d want my sons to hear how telling the truth finally unburdened his soul.

Whitewashing doping’s worst, biggest scandal by continuing to celebrate the guys who only admitted their doping after being outed by others sends the wrong message to anyone who thinks a moral compass matters.

Join the conversation
  1. Pat Navin says

    Yes, Padraig, the time for cycling heroes has passed. Had a chance to meet Armstrong a couple of years ago. I passed on that. I do distinguish somewhat between Armstrong and the rest who cheated and didn’t admit it until outed. Armstrong actively destroyed peoples’ lives. Of course, he did that with the silent assent of the others, so no rose parades for them.

    I will say that some of these folks make amends in their own ways. Hincapie and Vande Velde are both very active with charitable work in the Greenville area and elsewhere. Voigt raises money for all kinds of causes by lending his name and presence to events. That doesn’t answer your question on why those who told the truth aren’t celebrated.

    I think the universality of your “primal” point holds. Whistleblowers quickly fade from view while the people they expose often remain. Think of Frances Haugen who exposed the corruption of Facebook while Mark Zuckerberg remains a titan of Silicon Valley. Little changed after her stunning revelations. Even this week, Elon Musk promotes an antisemitic conspiracy theory within days of appearing with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Talk about people worthy of scorn…

    It is ironic how in the U.S., some of the worst people leverage their awfulness to gain even more power. Ah, the joys of capitalism!

  2. khal spencer says

    No one is ever as bad as the worst thing they ever did, or as good as their finest hour, either. We are all somewhere in between. But I too find it interesting that the folks who ‘fessed up are nowhere to be seen while we turn a blind eye to the people who made pro cycling a sleazy contest of doping rather than talent. Sure, they were not the ringleaders and those who have redeemed themselves via charitable work need a hat tip. But what about Hamilton? Put out a good book, by the way.

    Back in the ’90’s before the SHTF with all the doping reports, I once, as president of the Hawaii Bicycling League, gave the HBL Spirit of Cycling award to the team that put on a four island (I think) fundraising cycling tour for AIDS, back when people were dropping left and right from AIDS (including one of my wife’s grad advisors, a colleague of mine at the U of Hawaii, and my brother in law). The award was a framed print of Armstrong pointing to the sky after he won that stage following the Stage 15 death of Fabio Casartelli in the TdF. We contacted Graham Watson for an official, authorized copy. That was before Armstrong took the deep dive into dope, I think. Still, in retrospect, Armstrong’s leadership into the doping game leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    I’d be more inclined to invite folks like Charles Pelkey and former USCF champs Bill and Jim Meyers. Folks who did well but did it honestly for the love of the sport. CP also did a deep dive into the chemistry and law of doping, letting the rest of us know what was really going on out there.

Leave A Reply

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More