Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Fall of the House of Armstrong Pt. I...

Last Thursday, ex-US Postal rider Tyler Hamilton went public with details of the organized in-house doping program that elevated Lance Armstrong to 7-time Tour de France champion during the years 1999-2005. Hamilton is the rider who was banned twice in his career for testing positive, once for an autogolous blood transfusion in 2004 and the last year for DHEA, which effectively put paid to his career forever.

Hamilton riding for his last European squad, Tinkoff Credit Systems-

He will be interviewed by Scott Pelley on the venerable news program 60 Minutes on Sunday, May 22nd. This in and of itself is enough of a bombshell, but what followed was unexpected. It turns out George Hincapie gave testimony to the Federal grand jury overseeing the investigation of the allegations initially brought to light by Floyd Landis. Hincapie has corroborated the rampant drug use by Armstrong and others that rode for his teams during this time.

Hamilton during his 60 Minutes interview with Scott Pelley-

Hamilton is an easy person to vilify. Like Landis, he too took public money in the form of a campaign dubbed "" to finance the legal defense against his first positive test,, incorporating the ridiculous strategy based on the ludicrous notion that he had another blood type in his system due to a "chimera", or disappearing twin, while he was still in his mother's womb.

And like Landis, he has lied about his drug use for years despite unequivocal evidence to the contrary. It wasn't just the initial positive dope test, it was also his association with the infamous Spanish gynecologist/sports doctor Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, which came to light after Operation Puerto revealed a client list that included some of pro cycling's leading stars, including Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. Ullrich retired in disgrace and Basso received a two-year ban, though neither had ever tested positive for an illegal substance ever in their careers.

Hamilton, at the time riding for a Russian team, vehemently denied any association with Dr. Fuentes, but evidence later revealed payments to the doctor from his then-wife Haven Hamilton to the tune of many thousands of Euros and a detailed doping diary that beggars belief. With all the doping Hamilton was doing, it's a miracle he's still alive to tell the tale, so comprehensive was the doping regimen he was on at the time.

Spain's Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes of "Operation Puerto" fame-

Armstrong's defense remains unshaken. His people have put out statement after statement refuting all charges by attempting to assassinate the flawed characters of Landis and Hamilton, an easy thing to do given the circumstances. But the Hincapie situation is not one that can be swept under the rug as the rantings of a bitter and jealous ex-teammate looking for publicity. This tactic will not work this time because Hincapie is one of the few from that particular era that has kept his reputation intact while never coming under suspicion as a doper.

Up until now, Hincapie's reputation has been that of the grand gentleman of the peloton. He's had a long career that spanned seven years spent as Armstrong's lieutenant during his Tour wins and was never mired in any type of controversy of any kind. But his admission of steroid use will cast a shadow over his career that will never wash off. He is currently racing in the Tour of California and has made no public statements to the press other than the usual pathetic attempts at obfuscating. Here are three of his quotes taken directly from his Twitter feed-

"I can confirm to you I never spoke with '60 Minutes'. I have no idea where they got their information."
"As I've said in the past, I continue to be disappointed that people are talking about the past in cycling instead of the future."
"As for the substance of anything in the '60 Minutes' story, I cannot comment on anything relating to the ongoing investigation."

Right now we do not know how any of Hincapie's testimony was leaked, but 60 Minutes got a hold of it. We won't know anything else until the program airs tomorrow. I could have waited until then to write this column, but I felt this information was too important to wait.But it begs the question-we now have three of Armstrong's ex-teammates ratting him out. Hincapie is the most surprising. Not only because of his supposed undying loyalty to Armstrong but because as one of the "good guys" of the peloton, he was thought by many moronic fanboys to be ethically above reproach. But just like Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, nice guys also dope.

Funny about Hincapie. Rumors about him go all the way back to when he was lapping the field in Central Park in New York City. He's been alleged to have been shooting up with vitamin B, cortisone and testosterone before he began riding for the infamous US national team. If anyone is familiar with the cats in this photo, no further explanation is necessary. Here is Hincapie repping the US national jersey alongside Mengoni riders the Pineda Brothers (the middle two) and sprinter Wilson Vasquez(far right)-

Hamilton, to his credit, has given back his 2004 Olympic gold medal. At the time he got off on a technicality because his B-sample was inadvertently frozen, so the testers could not corroborate the A-sample findings, but weeks later dropped out of the Vuelta a EspaƱa citing an illness and was caught out along with another teammate for an illegal blood transfusion. They both showed traces of someone elses' blood in their systems, meaning someone on the team's medical staff got the blood bags mixed up.

Whatever else the 60 Minutes report unveils, it is becoming clear that unlike the Federal investigation into Barry Bonds and his use of steroids, the Feds are thoroughly doing their homework and coming up with witnesses that unlike in Bonds' case, are not willing to go to jail just for the sake of defending Armstrong.

We shall see.

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