Thursday 19 September 2019

Team player in an individual sport tells revealing tale

George Hincapie, The Loyal Lieutenant
George Hincapie, The Loyal Lieutenant

Dean Goodison: Book review

There are few men in all of sport who, upon the mere mention of their name, give the average fan as nauseating a feeling at the pit of their stomach as Lance Armstrong. The disgraced former seven-time Tour De France winner is the crude, cocky, face of evil of a sport still struggling to move past the performance-enhancing drug era.

Indeed, it's said that there are many things Armstrong could do without on his way to Tour 'glory', but there were two things he certainly couldn't: the EPO which boosted his body and George Hincapie who did all the donkey work as his 'domestique'.

'The Loyal Lieutenant' is the story of American workhorse Hincapie, born to Colombian parents and hailing from Queens, New York. It's his autobiography, his story but centres heavily on Armstrong and his U.S. Postal team through the years of unparalleled success.

Craig Hummer is the co-author, and the fact that he takes that credit rather than that of a ghost writer is a little peculiar. Hincapie tells his own story but there are continued interludes from others which presumably warrants the co-writer tag.

As the potential reader you have to weigh this book up from two sides. You can only really repulse at the drug use and the lengths guys went to in order to get to the front of the pack. On the other hand, Hincapie's story is a valid one that deserved the space to be aired.

Firstly, on the PED side of things. Straight away Hincapie backs the reader into a corner by doling up Armstrong, of all people, as the author of the foreword. The light will immediately go off in the cynics' head, 'that's just done for sales', and that's a fair assessment.

Who would buy Hincapie's book without the Armstrong angle? Probably very few but for reasons soon to be discussed that would be a pity. While on the topic of 'pity', Armstrong is clearly searching for it in his foreword but his ego quickly blows his chance.

Describing the taking of performance-enhancing drugs as a 'decision we were forced to make' is woefully wide of the mark from Armstrong (where was the gun to the temple?), and really suggests that he's still trying to blame others.

It sets the wrong tone to a book that really gets better after that cheat disappears. Yet, it's not like Hincapie is any kind of saint. His story is an interesting one and that makes the book very readable.

He owns his drug taking, he repents, he explains what made him come to the decision to cheat and how, eventually, he was in the first wave of racers to push against the tide and try to compete in racing clean.

He talks about his relationship with other riders, especially the ones who raced alongside him in his career and about the bonds and friendships formed. He embraces his past, doesn't shirk the blame and comes across as someone who really regretted the decisions he made.

For general sports fans some of this will make a difficult read. You, more than likely, have never heard of Hincapie but his story is different. This is not a tale of individual win after win, success after success that many of these publications tend to be about.

This is the story of the team player in the individual sport. It's exactly what will make it a really interesting read for cycling fans.

The beauty of 'The Loyal Lieutenant' is that it's so well written and put together that, once past Lance's rubbish, you won't be able to put it down.

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