Cyclist George Hincapie on Biking, Doping, and Lance Armstrong

American cyclist George Hincapie was a “domestique,” making tactical decisions on the course, helping shepherd the team leader through the peloton — the pack of riders — and keeping him in a strong position. Drafting behind another rider can save up to 20% of a rider’s energy.

In this interview, the record seventeen-time Tour de France participant, Olympian, and key witness in the Lance Armstrong doping case gives an account of his career and a sports era defined by performance-enhancing drug use.

Hincapie started using the performance-enhancer Erythropoietin (EPO) in 1996, on and off. “I went from barely being able to survive in the peloton to surviving.” He began riding clean ten years later. “I never saw any indication of doping on the teams that I was on from 2007 on.”

He retired from cycling in 2012, in part because he knew he faced suspension from the sport because of his earlier doping. 

On his relationship to Lance Armstrong:

We grew up racing bikes together. We never expected being thrown into that world. It’s not like we decided together that we were going to dope. It’s like we were thrown into a world that we felt like, at the time, we didn’t have a choice.

On widespread use of doping in cycling:

There was a time in ‘95, ‘96, where the speeds got incredibly faster. And all of a sudden you go from being one of the best guys in the world to being barely able to hold on to the guy who’s the most out of shape in the peloton. ... My value systems then, in my 20’s and early 30’s, were different than they are now…At the time, I truly felt like I wasn’t doing wrong.

George Hincapie's book is The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris.