Review, Part I: The Loyal Lieutenant, by George Hincapie

06.5.2014 | 10:29 am

NewImageA Note from Fatty: I’m going to review this book in two parts. Today, I’ll be looking at what the book promises vs. what it delivers. In my next post (which I’ll put up this Monday), I’ll talk about the style and storytelling in the book.

And for what it’s worth, I contacted Craig Hummer prior to posting this, letting him know that I would welcome a reply post from him, or even a Spreecast video chat. That offer stands — I’ll post whatever reply he likes, with the promise that I will only edit for my style of “blog legibility” — more paragraph breaks than what most people think is normal, and, if it’s long, the right to break it up into multiple parts.

Everyone gets to tell the story they want to. That is fine. Furthermore, everyone has the right to not tell a story at all. That too is fine.

The biggest problem with The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris, by George Hincapie (co-authored by Craig Hummer) is that the title promises one kind of story, and then doesn’t tell it, instead telling you another.

And that is not fine.

Bait and Switch

Practically every single thing about the cover and opening pages of this book screams “I am/was best friends with Lance Armstrong.”

  • The title of the book, The Loyal Lieutenant, tells you, with both of its words, that this is a book about his relationship with Lance. First, he’s loyal to Lance. Second, he was Lance’s lieutenant: meaning he took orders from Lance, and by inference, made his own professional ambitions secondary to Lance’s.  
  • The subheading of the book: “Leading out Lance and pushing through pain on the Rocky Road to Paris” is a mouthful (I know, I’m not exactly one to talk), but it tells you three things (and order is important on book covers): 1. This is first and foremost about his experience with being Lance’s chief domestique. 2. It’s about pushing through pain. 3. It’s about the Tour de France.
  • The photo on the book cover: This photo has been carefully edited to dim out all the riders except Hincapie and Armstrong.
  • The Foreword: The first actual content (right after Hummer’s explanation of why he wrote a book lionizing Hincapie) is a Foreword…by Lance Armstrong.

OK, we get it. This is a book that should have been titled Lance and George

Except that’s not what the book is.

Legolas and Gimli

In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has Legolas (the elf) and Gimli (the dwarf) start out as natural enemies: dwarves and elves don’t like each other. Then they go into some enchanted wood (Lorien), stay for a while, and come out of the forest pretty much inseparable. Ta da. It’s a profoundly unsatisfying transition, because apart from a few sentences, we don’t see how they got from rivals to BFFs.

And that’s pretty much what The Loyal Lieutenant does as far as describing the relationship between Hincapie and Armstrong.

We actually get a reasonable expectation that there’s going to be a friendship there, courtesy of a promising quote from Armstrong:

“A lot of our initial bonding was we were both just kids having fun, being teenage boys. Stupid stuff. We were both extremely cheesy, but we hit it off at that first camp and were friends from that point on.”

OK, awesome. The next thing the book should have is a description of some of that bonding. Some of that cheesy, stupid stuff.

But it’s not there. In fact, the closest Hincapie comes to describing this relationship is with this dry little snippet:

“Lance Armstrong, whom I had met and befriended at a USA Cycling training camp years before[….]“

How did they become friends? What were their conversations like? What did they do together? None of our business. We just need to take it for granted that it happened, because pretty much the next time Armstrong enters the picture, we’re told:

“Lance and I had long since established an impenetrable level of trust[….]“

I’m sorry, but you don’t get to do that. You can either promise this is a book about your relationship or you can have your privacy about how that relationship started and developed, but you can’t have both. 

Andreu and Hincapie 

But while Hincapie doesn’t say much about how he developed a relationship with Armstrong, he has quite a bit to say about developing a relationship with Frankie Andreu.

Specifically, Hincapie essentially lays his knowledge of doping and his decision to dope at Andreu’s doorstep. Here’s the exchange where Hincapie asks Andreu about the facts of (doping) life:

At first it hadn’t been easy to get Frankie to open up. His answers to my questions were direct, and his tone implied I should stop asking. (In fairness to Frankie, he remembers this next exchange differently.)

“It’s none of your business. You shouldn’t be looking at this.”

“Frankie, what is that stuff? I have a feeling I know what it is. But I need you to tell me.”

“Well, if you know what it is, what is it?”

“I  think it’s EPO. How long have you been taking it?”

Again, he replied, “None of your business.”

Andreu then explains to Hincapie how to get EPO, and tells Hincapie it’s not a big deal to take, because “everyone did it.”

Hincapie then goes on to villainize Andreu for his own decision to dope, referring to Andreu’s mentorship as a “dark” thing, calling him “Cranky Frankie,” and saying that Frankie looked at Hincapie with “mild disdain.” 

Meanwhile, Hincapie is assuring us that he needed to start doping, in order to keep up. And it’s not written like, “Young and foolish, with neither wisdom nor perspective, I saw no option but to cheat.” 

It reads like he still feels like it was an OK decision to have made.

Here’s Where You Lost Me

And this is where I started feeling uneasy with Hincapie — where I started, honestly, disliking him. He describes his sense of self right after doping the first time:

“I exited the bathroom a changed man. I felt completely at peace. […] This was a new me, one without limitations, and one without the deck stacked against him.”

I don’t even know where to start with that. It doesn’t make any sense; I can’t identify with it at all. It’s like an alien spoke it. You’re completely at peace after making a decision to live a secretive life based on perpetual cheating? Incomprehensible.

You feel like this is a new you, without limitations? Yes, sure, you’re new. But don’t you see the giant new limitation you’ve just established?

You see yourself as no longer having the deck stacked against you? And didn’t see yourself as now one of the people stacking the deck?

You didn’t consider that you had just become one of the guys you had used as a source of righteous indignation  a few pages earlier? (“The fuel I drew on now was derived and distilled from my take on justice and retribution.”)

Nope, you seem perfectly at ease, defending the ongoing doping program as “conservative.” 

Oh, well in that case, by all means carry on.

Stay Tuned

So. That’s the grievance I have with the premise and characterizations in this book. 

But what if you set all that aside? If you say, “OK, enough with the complaining about the doping and the unfulfilled promise of character development; how was the storytelling? Was the book interesting and fun to read?

Which is where I’ll pick up in part 2 of this review


  1. Comment by Isaac | 06.5.2014 | 10:41 am

    “You feel like this is a new you, without limitations? Yes, sure, you’re new. But don’t you see the giant new limitation you’ve just established?”

    No right, no wrong, no rules for meeee! I’m Freeee! Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore….

    Seriously, Elsa dang near became a villain there. Sounds like Hincapie went over that ledge.

  2. Comment by Libby | 06.5.2014 | 10:41 am

    There’d have to be an AWFUL lot of interesting and fun storytelling in your next review to convince me to read this book.

  3. Comment by James | 06.5.2014 | 10:42 am

    Wow fatty. You need to start interviewing some of the old guard in cycling. I have the feeling you are not afraid to call people out and ask the real questions (questions journalists DO NOT ask). Maybe like an Open Mic with Mike Creed? I have the name – Chewing the Fat with Fatty.

    No, I’d be terrible at that. I can only make a good argument when I have time to think very slowly and type. In person, I roll over instantly. Just you watch: if Craig Hummer has a video chat with me, I’ll wind up agreeing with everything he says and asking for his autograph. – FC

  4. Comment by dug | 06.5.2014 | 10:52 am

    we’re talking about professional athletes here. a breed not exactly known for introspection, self-awareness, ethics, or really anything but supreme skill in their chosen field.

    a well written athlete memoir is a rarity in any sport. they are athletes. they hire ghost writers, but their choice of ghost writers is often as bad as their other personal decisions. the list of retired professional athletes who are bankrupt after making tens of millions of dollars is long and sad.

    we buy and read these books to try to touch the sky, maybe see inside the life of people leading lives we wish we led, maybe to see behind the curtain, hoping to see the flaws to make us feel better about ourselves.

    rarely, almost never, we find a retired professional athlete who is articulate, funny, honest, and a great storyteller. mostly, we find that they share all too many traits with people like movie stars, professional celebrities, and rock stars.

    it’s not worth it. if we want heroes, go read “to kill a mockingbird” again. if we want fallen heroes, go read hamlet again. stop reading celebrity memoirs.

  5. Comment by Freddy Murcks | 06.5.2014 | 10:54 am

    I always had the feeling that Georgie Boy wasn’t actually smart enough to win a tactical bike race like the Paris Roubaix. Based on your review, it also seems that he is not smart enough to tell stories (even with the help of a professional writer) or to understand the moral weight of his own choices. It also seems like a rather lame attempt to whitewash his and Lance’s role in the doping at Postal and to put the onus onto Frankie Andreu, but that’s just my own opinion.

  6. Comment by daddyo | 06.5.2014 | 10:56 am

    wonderful start to a book review. if the title were less suggestive of a biography would you feel the same? recently saw the documentary and am ambivalent about PED/doping. I use caffeine daily and it helps me perform better. is it a PED? yes. (I also like coffee). if the UCI regulated PED, would we still be having this discussion. is the real issue lying about what you do to achieve these superhuman levels of performance? kids are taking Adderall to prepare for finals; how do we feel about that collectively?

  7. Comment by Wife#1 | 06.5.2014 | 11:02 am

    OMG I just burst out laughing so loudly at your response to James’ comment that I startled both sleeping dogs awake. Hilarious!

    Oddly, this first part of your review kind of makes me want to read the book where I formally had zero interest. Though I am a contrarian.

    Finally, no word from David yet. His chargers were in the luggage which tells me his bike and bag are still missing and both his iPad and iPhone have now died. This is not good. Not good at all.

    Sure it’s good. It’s fodder for a good story. But you’re posting too many spoilers for that story (and deflecting the comments topic for today’s story)! – FC

  8. Comment by Shugg McGraw | 06.5.2014 | 11:13 am

    Hincapie made his money by cheating at professional cycling. Don’t let him make more money by buying the book that tells you how he cheated at professional cycling.

  9. Comment by Eric L | 06.5.2014 | 11:23 am

    Well said Dug.

    I was long a fan of Hincapie’s, but it seems to me that while he and others are still sitting on their palmares after Armstrong has been stripped of his, a serious injustice is at work.

    Fatty, as always, your observations are astute and funny.

  10. Comment by Jeff Bike | 06.5.2014 | 11:30 am

    Like most Americans I won’t read this book. Not because it is such a bad book but because we rather let others tell us what we are to think and what we value. We are becoming a world of 140 character opinions and news sound bites. Do we individually really take time to look and really listen anymore?
    Walk a mile in another mans shoes the stop and smell the roses. Then you will have sore feet from shoes that don’t fit and allergies.

  11. Comment by Rob L | 06.5.2014 | 11:30 am

    No ego here folks, just keep riding!

    Thanks for saving me the $$$ I’ll wait for the Lifetime Movie treatment.

  12. Comment by Sjw504 | 06.5.2014 | 11:51 am

    I’d like to know if and how much an image consultant was involved in determine the content of this book. Right now it looks like a text book image rehabilitation campaign and not an attempt to provide honest insight.

  13. Comment by centurion | 06.5.2014 | 12:19 pm

    I would have read Geo’s book if he headn’t knowingly and willfuly joined LA’s doping party. Sorry, but knowning that he did it just makes him another face in the peloton.

  14. Comment by Chris Jennings | 06.5.2014 | 12:31 pm

    I was going to buy this book because I always liked Hincapie, even after the doping admission. Now that I’ve read this review I’m glad I didn’t. I did buy your book though.

  15. Comment by Davidh-Venice,Italy | 06.5.2014 | 1:50 pm

    Found the charger.

    Experience now. Post later. – FC

  16. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 06.5.2014 | 2:21 pm

    I read Lance’s first book. Before all the doping stuff became known it was very inspiring – and anyone that survives battling cancer has to be applauded, that is still a good story. But I gave up reading this type of book. I figure, and you are verifying, that it really isn’t an interesting story, and they just need to make a few bucks and maybe get some self vindication. Boring.

  17. Comment by Clydesteve | 06.5.2014 | 2:39 pm

    @dug – Stellar post, especially the last paragraph. I said: “Yeah!” internally at mention of heroes & “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

    But, if we took up a collection to get you a new shift key, would you use it?

  18. Comment by PNP | 06.5.2014 | 2:51 pm

    Hey, davidh is in Italy! Now *there’s* a story I want to read about!

  19. Comment by Snowcatcher | 06.5.2014 | 2:51 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with dug and daddyo. I’ve done two charity rides with Hincapie now, and he spoke and even did questions and answers at the second one. I expected all the other riders to really put him on the hot seat, but they didn’t. Everyone was courteous and respectful.

    Doping was talked about, but he didn’t seem to have the attitude he appears to express in the book. Perhaps he is better at communicating verbally in person than with a computer and ghost writer? I likely will not read the book because I’d rather remember what he said and how he carried himself in front of what could have been a very tough audience. But this was an excellent part I book review, and I look forward to part II and the response, if any.

  20. Comment by Anonymous | 06.5.2014 | 3:59 pm

    So Fatty. Is Chris Hummer a professional writer, or was this two people who thought together they could get George’s story told. I enjoyed Chris as a commentator for OLN but right after the TDF you would hear him announcing Rodeo riding. Wife#1 has ghost written for a horse whisperer, I’ll be curious for her take on the book. Of course I’ll have to get it for her….I wonder if she can read Italian?

  21. Comment by Gabi | 06.5.2014 | 6:27 pm

    I’m glad you’re reviewing this. Now I know I don’t want to read it.

  22. Comment by Suzanne | 06.5.2014 | 6:56 pm

    I will never like Hincapie after he threw Lance under the bus. I’m not saying Lance was right, but that you never bite the hand that feeds/fed you.

  23. Comment by Heidi | 06.5.2014 | 7:19 pm

    Great Part I. Regardless of the topic, if a book isn’t well-written, there isn’t a chance I’ll want to read it. So yup, I’ll be taking a pass on this one.

  24. Comment by Carl | 06.5.2014 | 7:51 pm

    Does Craig Hammer know anything about cycling?

  25. Comment by Doug (way upstate NY) | 06.5.2014 | 9:07 pm

    Fatty, I think for davidh’s sake you should impose a zero comment rule while he is in Italy :)

  26. Comment by Mike | 06.5.2014 | 10:07 pm

    I bought and read this one. I am not sure what I expected from the book, but I was definitely disappointed. Juliet Macur’s book Cycle of Lies was much better.

  27. Comment by ScottR | 06.5.2014 | 10:44 pm

    1. Did this book make you long for a Mark Cavendish book? :-)

    2. Like some of the comments above, I hate the idea of giving money to these dopers. Much like I was glad to get The Levi Effect for free via 100MoN.

  28. Comment by Rolis | 06.5.2014 | 11:05 pm

    Another lame doper trying – poorly it seems – to continue to cash in. It seems the “tell all” has become quite the cottage industry. I do feel bad that you actually had to read it, you could have been out riding instead!

  29. Comment by Chris | 06.6.2014 | 5:37 am

    I too feel like a changed man when I come out of the bathroom….

  30. Comment by Not A. Cyclist | 06.6.2014 | 8:02 am

    WOW. What a hatchet job. Sure seems you loved Lance and Johan all those years, How proud you were about hanging with Lance and all. Boy you must forget what a fan boy you were.

  31. Pingback by Chainlinks: Best of the Bike Web, June 6, 2014 - Trail & Tarmac | 06.6.2014 | 8:21 am

    [...] Fat Cyclist reads The Loyal Lieutenant: The biggest problem with The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris, by George Hincapie (co-authored by Craig Hummer) is that the title promises one kind of story, and then doesn’t tell it, instead telling you another. Keep Reading >> [...]

  32. Comment by BostonCarlos (formerly NYC) | 06.6.2014 | 8:55 am

    Not A. Cyclist… what’s your point? Elden (and most of the commenters here) was behind these people because of what they were doing for a good cause. They lied repeatedly about doping, and many chose to believe them because they were doing other good things. Who cares if he or I or anyone liked these people before? They cheated at a sport. Who cares? I still don’t care. I mostly don’t like these guys now because of how they’ve treated their friends throughout all of this. I don’t give 2 hoots about what kind of PEDs they were using.

  33. Comment by AustinCyclist | 06.6.2014 | 9:46 am

    Not A. Cyclist…So, are you stating that is is wrong for Fatty to change his initial opinion of a person based upon information learned after said initial opinion is formed? If you really believe that to be true, there is really nothing to say.

  34. Comment by Kukui | 06.6.2014 | 10:50 am

    This is a great review, Fatty. I am interested to read your take on the storytelling aspect.

    I’m of the opinion that the whole pro-cycling doping culture is in the wrong. I didn’t jump on the Tyler Hamilton bandwagon. Just because he was caught first and used it to try and reshape his image, doesn’t mean he wasn’t contributing to a really bad cycle (Ha! Pun!).

    If 80% of the field are doping to keep up with the King of the Dopers, the whole culture needs to change. Do you remember a couple of years ago in pro baseball, they considered making a Natural League separate from the Roid-Rage League?

  35. Comment by Joe | 06.6.2014 | 1:07 pm

    Despite your warning, you’re 1 for 1 on this two-part series. That was an interesting read on a book that I feel would be very uninteresting to me.

  36. Comment by ScottM | 06.6.2014 | 2:32 pm

    In my mind the issue isn’t that they took the PEDs – it is that they cheated. If everyone was openly taking them we have a level playing field. But when one individual or a team does something that they know to be wrong to gain and advantage then we are in bad guy territory. The question I ask when I’m in that situation – how will the other guy react if he knows I’m doing that? If I know his reaction will be negative I’m probably doing something wrong. If there is a published rule regarding it, the question is pretty clear, unless of course everyone knowingly and openly ignores the rule – which does happen. But again, the doing of it is in the open and known to all. If I have to hide it, it is probably wrong. They were knowly hiding it, to the point they were going to extreme measures to keep it hidden.

  37. Comment by Not A. Cyclist | 06.6.2014 | 3:37 pm

    Austin…. sure changing your opinion of LA is one thing. But that still doesnt negate the awareness that Lance raised for cancer, let alone providing hope for those fighting cancer. It sure seems to me that Fatty bestowed his respect on Lance more for his cancer-awareness than his prowess on the bike.

    On top of which, Fatty’s assessment of the book is all wrong. George lead 3 different TdF winners and one to the green jersey. The book doesnt only claim to be about his relationship with Lance but about all of George’s accomplishments. Whether that be making he podium during the spring classics or leading Cavendish, Evans, Contador and Armstrong to the top of their game.

    Read the book for yourself. there’s a reason it’s one the top selling book of sports autobiographies and book of the month on Amazon.

  38. Comment by buckythedonkey | 06.7.2014 | 3:18 am

    Suzanne, the omertà only gets broken when somebody (to paraphrase you) bites the hand that feeds them. Hincapie may be a contemptible for several reasons, but coming clean (even if not completely) isn’t one of them.

  39. Comment by buckythedonkey | 06.7.2014 | 3:27 am

    Kukui, the problem with permitting drugs in sport is simple: where does it stop? It won’t be long before your little leaguers are stepping up to the plate sporting biceps like Mark MacGwire.

    Indeed, towards the end of Matt Rendell’s excellent “The Death of Marco Pantani” there’s a story that suggests that Pantani may have been doped as a teenager by his youth team coach. In other words, the normal inter-coach rivalry that sees pro behaviour trickle down the ranks was at play, just this time in the form illegal drugs being given to unwitting children. Awful!

  40. Comment by tim joe comstock | 06.7.2014 | 7:39 pm

    What it makes me wonder about is what George was doing in the bathroom. Also, where can I get some EPO? Sounds like some good stuff. Miss Daisy the Yellow Dog had some ALPO the other day and she swears by it, but she can’t ride a bicycle (that I know of) and she is, after all, a dog. But I’ll take any help I can get. We ain’t none of us getting any younger, ya know. E I E I O, yers in the ethernet, tj

  41. Comment by tim joe comstock | 06.8.2014 | 12:38 pm

    Thanks, uberstrike. I try to be fair and irrational when thought-sourcing and also I like to check the internet myself for points.

  42. Comment by The Flying Ute | 06.8.2014 | 10:33 pm

    I love to read, but I think your review is going to be all I read for this book.

  43. Comment by Jeff Bike | 06.9.2014 | 4:29 pm

    Hey Fatty we are all waiting for part 2. Is this part of the cliff hanger? Make us wait a few extra days?

  44. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Review, Part II: The Loyal Lieutenant, by George Hincapie | 06.9.2014 | 6:45 pm

    [...] « Review, Part I: The Loyal Lieutenant, by George Hincapie [...]

  45. Comment by Parlee | 06.9.2014 | 9:19 pm

    Hincapie is the most overrated American cyclist ever with or without drugs. How did he ever rate the attention he received much less a book.

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