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

06.9.2014 | 6:45 pm

NewImageA Note from Fatty: This is part 2 of my review of 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). Click here for part 1.

I don’t have an axe to grind. I don’t have anything  against George Hincapie. I was interested enough in his story that I bought The Loyal Lieutenant, after all. But both in terms of substance and style, this book rubs me the wrong way.

Enough so, that I decided to dig in: To explain why what should have been a really intriguing and insightful book…isn’t.

Fire the Editor

Back in high school, I lived for debate. When preparing a case for or against the resolution, I always made certain I had a piece of “evidence” — a quote from an expert — that substantiated every single point I was trying to make.

Of course, sometimes my quotes from the experts didn’t exactly make the point I was going for. I trusted, though, that nobody would be paying that close of attention — that as long as I had something there, my audience would cut me some slack.

Which may explain why I lost so often.

But that’s kind of the problem — especially in the first several chapters — of Loyal Lieutenant. For example, we’re reading about how Hincapie’s mother “wouldn’t put up with” his purchase of a motorcycle, at which point we get the following quote from his mother:

Oh, I didn’t like that bike. I worried about them enough on the ones with pedals. I wasn’t about to tolerate any with motors! But that paled in comparison to how mad I was the first time I found out he had been drinking. He was twelve years old, and he biked home after finishing a whole bottle of whiskey with a friend. I thought the parents had been there, so I got mad at the mother too. It turns out, boys being boys, they had raided the liquor cabinet while his parents had been away.

So, yes, the first couple lines are about Hincapie’s motorcycle. But then — wham — the topic turns to his substance abuse and theft. Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t topics worth exploring in the book. Just not here. The editor should have caught that, and stopped it.

This isn’t the only place this weird topical shift happens, either. When Hincapie is saying that his brother, Rich, is “…my confidant, my alter ego…” (Which means, of course, that Rich is George Hincapie’s secret identity, sort of a Clark Kent to George’s Superman — which is one of hundreds of instances in this book where, apparently, the author just grabbed vocabulary out of a hat and the editor didn’t bother making a correction), Rich’s description of how close they are is this:

It’s funny, I can’t really remember a time we didn’t get along, or I wasn’t genuinely happy for him and his successes. Well, except once. We were out doing stupid stuff, what typical teenage boys do, and George was with his group of friends, and they decided it would be funny to chase me through the woods and tie me to a tree. I put up a good fight, kicking and screaming, but eventually they succeeded, and they left me there for a couple hours. He came back and before he untied me, he put his BB gun up to my thigh and shot me—at point-blank range. Looking back on it, I can’t remember another instance I ever got mad at him.

I promise you that I am not making this up: the example this book goes with of how George and Rich are soulmate brothers is, in fact, an anti-example of that fact. An anecdote that sounds more like the backstory for Dexter than just about anything else.

The next anecdote given — to further demonstrate the close relationship Rich and George have — is one where George gloats to a friend about having knocked his brother out with boxing gloves.

Yes, really.

But the problem with the quotes, used liberally throughout the book, isn’t just in that they more often than not seem like the wrong quote for demonstrating the intended point, or that the quote keeps on going way after the intended point is miles behind us. 

The larger problem is having the quotes in there at all

You see, this book is written as a first-person narrative: George Hincapie telling the story of his life, in his own words (I’ll get to the problem with this in just a minute). But then (most often in the first half of the book, but sprinkled throughout), the narrative pauses while — indented, with the name of the person in all-caps — a different person speaks. 

It just doesn’t work. 

Imagine yourself: you’re writing your autobiography. You want other people’s perspectives, so you go and interview them, recording what they say. Fine so far, right? When you say to your mom, “Tell me about how you felt about when I stole the neighbors’ whiskey and came home drunk, at age twelve,” how is she going to reply?

Is she going to say, “He was twelve years old, and he biked home after finishing a whole bottle of whiskey with a friend.”

No, of course not. She’g going to say, “You were twelve years old, and you biked home after finishing a bottle of whiskey with a friend.” You’re going to use second person, not third. 

But every single one of these quotes is in third person. Spoken, obviously, to someone who is doing the research. Someone who is not George. Someone who is, clearly, Craig Hummer.

So the illusion — if there ever was one to start with — of this being a book written by Hincapie is utterly demolished every time there’s a quote

But let’s go a step further: what are the quotes doing there anyway? They rarely add anything to the story. (The reliable exception to this is actually when Armstrong says something. Whatever else you have to say about him, Lance has a gift for cogent, entertaining storytelling.) It’s your story; you chose first person. If someone else has something to say, work it into your narrative. (It can be done; check out The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton / Daniel Coyle for a recent, topical example.)

Don’t just go pasting quotes in like evidence cards in a high school junior’s debate case.

You Sound a Lot Like a Sports Commentator, George

Craig Hummer, the sports commentator, is the co-author for this book. And it seems like Craig did a good job in doing background interviews and talking with Hincapie about what Hincapie wanted to say.

And then, apparently, Hummer went and did something he shouldn’t have done: he wrote the book.

The problem is, it reads like a sports commentator wrote it. Lots of tortured prose (“dichotomous dedication to yearly double duty”). Lots of near-miss vocabulary (“What were the possible downfalls” instead of “What were the possible pitfalls”). Lots of mixed, confusing metaphors, like, “…boiled down to its essence, cycling could be simplified to an equation…” or “…as the sun broke through the horizon….” or “…A slice of sanity the size of a pinprick….”

Stuff that works, in short, just fine when you’re speaking off the cuff during a live sports event. But maybe not so well when you’re writing a book.

More importantly, as you’re reading, the voice doesn’t feel like Hincapie sounds. Try picturing George Hincapie saying this out loud:

Crammed together like we are, a hungry thief would have a field day, a cornucopia of nutritional items at his fingertips—gels, energy bars, and drinks. 

Were you able to read that in your inner-Hincapie voice? Convincingly? Now try picturing Craig Hummer saying that same sentence out loud. 

Easier, isn’t it?

My point isn’t that George Hincapie shouldn’t have hired someone to write his book. It’s that he should have hired an experienced writer — not a gregarious sports commentator with no biography credits (and scant writing credits at all) to his name — to write what he had to know was going to be a topical minefield.

Otherwise, that sinking ship was going to look like a train wreck.


The title of this book is The Loyal Lieutenant, but take a look at the book cover: the subject matter is really the author. That’s fine. That’s one of the top reasons any of us would buy this particular book. 

One of the next reasons we’d buy it is to learn about what it’s like to do what the cover promises: “Leading Out Lance.”

Spoiler alert: There is hardly any storytelling of what it’s like to be — as perhaps the best-known, most successful domestique in at least a generation — leading Lance (or anyone!) out. If you expect page after page of a recounting of him pulling top GC contenders through an impossibly crowded, danger-ridden peloton, telling us second-by-second what he saw, what he sensed, how he dodged…you’re out of luck.

And when he does narrate an event, it’s often infuriating. For example, Hincapie/Hummer goes into a minutely detailed description of Armstrong’s famous “Musette Crash:” what happened before, how Armstrong went down, how racers reacted, and what happened next. 

But Hincapie was nowhere near that event. He was struggling up an entirely different zip code. 

So why didn’t Hincapie tell us what was going on back there? What they heard? When they heard it? What they were doing? I’d have been a lot more interested in reading that than a no-new-insight recounting of a video I can find on YouTube.

This isn’t to say that the book is completely devoid of personal, entertaining reading. His telling of how he met and fell in love with his wife, for example: that’s good stuff. Genuine and cute. 

Or his description of an autographed photograph of Lance he has (I’d be weirded out if a close friend autographed a picture of himself for me, but never mind), standing on a podium, pointing down, evidently, to an exhausted Hincapie as he crossed the line. 

But the moments come too rarely, in a story that feels self-censored, morally questionable, and badly written.

But the real pity is what this book could have been. Hincapie could have taken full, unconditional responsibility for his actions, shown real contrition, and then gone on to give us 350 pages of what it’s like to be inside his head during what was — doping or no — some of the most incredibly exciting days of racing the world has ever seen. 

I wish I could buy that book.


  1. Comment by James | 06.9.2014 | 7:46 pm

    Sorry, fatty. That book will never be written. Hincapie has already shown his true colors. He is going to sip fine wine at his hotel-chalet and laugh at all of us for expecting him to feel remorse. The guy is a waste of oxygen. I hope you read that George.

  2. Comment by Bob B. | 06.9.2014 | 8:11 pm

    Sounds like the Titanic jumping the tracks and full of bluster.

  3. Comment by Wife#1 | 06.9.2014 | 8:13 pm

    Great review and even better “technical” observations. Sigh.

    Why the H E double hockey sticks did he have Craig Hummer write it? That’s a real poser.

    Maybe we could a real book on what it’s like to be a top domestique from Popovych – I’d actually like to read about that myself.

    Actually what I really want is a Jensie “true tales” book!

  4. Comment by thomas delf | 06.9.2014 | 9:33 pm

    I wouldn’t have high expectations for GH’s story telling ability or philosophical outlook.
    BTW, TJ today in stage 2 of Dauphine, ouch. Missing in action at ToC may be hurting him.

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    I left this spam comment in on purpose cuz of the funny comment someone else made about it later. But first, I took out all the links and crap. Enjoy your neutered spam, everyone! – FC

  6. Comment by DonQ | 06.9.2014 | 10:45 pm

    That would be a better book. It seems the problem is the ready excuse, “everyone was doing it.” You know, which is fine, but where’s the story of the guy coming in 20th, clean, behind 19 other dirty riders.

  7. Comment by Pam | 06.9.2014 | 10:58 pm

    Great review — I especially loved the appropriate criticism. Maybe this should be a cycling and book review blog! Really fabulous posts and right on point. His “ghost writer” was ridiculous!
    P.S. I generally don’t like anyone writing anyone else’s books ala James Patterson, BUT I don’t mind real writers helping out some of these celebrity autobiographies ala Keith Richards and James Foxx. Here, I just didn’t hear any of Hincapie’s voice coming out.

  8. Comment by Tristan Allen | 06.9.2014 | 11:07 pm

    For anyone who’s read the book (Fatty?), is it true that he spins the line that he gave up the juice when LA retired in ‘06 and rode clean until he was banned in 2012?

    If so, sounds as if Lance wrote more than the foreword..

  9. Comment by Rick | 06.9.2014 | 11:09 pm

    What a well thought out and detailed review. While I haven’t read the book (and now probably won’t) you really tore into this one and dissected it for what it is and is not. Thank you.

  10. Comment by another Bob B | 06.9.2014 | 11:39 pm

    @Bob B: That’s an interesting mixed metaphor I would like to see!

  11. Comment by Papuass | 06.10.2014 | 2:29 am

    @Wife#1 Popovych wites a blog in this site, in russian, though:

  12. Comment by Nikolai | 06.10.2014 | 4:09 am

    Fatty, thank you so much for this review. Saves a lot of us wasting our time on it.

  13. Comment by Tom in Albany | 06.10.2014 | 5:35 am

    Do you think Hummer wrote the comment posted by “The Best Spinner” above?

  14. Comment by DougMH | 06.10.2014 | 5:45 am

    It will be available at CostCo for a $ a month after it’s published… with no shortage of copies available. At least that’s my prediction.

  15. Comment by Rob W | 06.10.2014 | 7:17 am

    Good review Fatty!

    So, I have been thinking about doping on the amateur level. Do you think people are doing it… win Leadville, Lotoja, and other amateur races??

    For sure. Some are even caught. – FC

  16. Comment by Christina | 06.10.2014 | 7:31 am

    I’m fascinated with how the idea to write this book even came to be. They all laid low for so long and I think I would have been pleased if they all just ignored the LA era. That’s what the racing fans are trying to do. When we get together to talk racing, I’ll admit that talk turns to Miguel Indurain and Greg LeMond rather than The Dark Ages.

    George was one of my favorite riders and I’m struggling to maintain that.

    Also, part of CX debate is limited time to make an argument. He had potentially infinite time to write this book, but I like the comparison.

    P.S. How’s the work on your book coming? (truly interested; not making a point)

    I haven’t worked on the Fight Like Susan book in a while; with all I have going on the present, it’s more than I have energy for. Thanks for asking, though. – FC

  17. Comment by Wife#1 | 06.10.2014 | 8:40 am

    Neutered spam! Too. Many. Jokes.

  18. Comment by MtlDan | 06.10.2014 | 8:51 am

    Just finished ‘Road to Valor’ about the Italian cyclist Gino Bartali. Highly recommend it if you want to have your faith in cycling stars (and in humanity) restored.

    YES. A well-written book, telling an amazing story. HIGHLY recommended. – FC

  19. Comment by wing-nut | 06.10.2014 | 9:33 am

    Elden, Your last paragraph makes me want to read a book that you’ll agree to ghostwrite. There is more to understand than what the headline gripers would have you believe.

    That will be worth reading.

  20. Comment by TominNorCal | 06.10.2014 | 10:34 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. I think you should get together with Floyd Landis and write a book on cyling life. That would be a must read.

    FYI…I hear the Charly Wegelius book “Domestique” is pretty good for the “in the trenches” view of the peloton.

    A new Floyd Landis autobiography would be fascinating. I would JUMP at the chance to ghostwrite that for him. I think, though, he has writer friends he’d be more likely to go with. – FC

  21. Comment by Andrew | 06.10.2014 | 10:47 am

    So Big George’s books is disappointing, boring and just doesn’t deliver the promised (hyped) results…..

    Sounds a lot like his racing career.

  22. Comment by ClydeinKS | 06.10.2014 | 11:45 am

    After this review, I wish you had the time and energy to write this one appropriately but look forward to your other project when it gets completed (no pressure to rush though!).
    I am hoping to get to “Domestique” next and also agree that “Road to Valor” is excellent!
    Now if I just had a handlebar or stem mount book holder I might get through more reading.

  23. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 06.10.2014 | 11:49 am

    Thanks for pointing out the sloppy writing and hypocrisy in Hincapie’s book; saves me from wasting time and money on it.
    As for doping, I feel the only way to assure a clean sport is to make it too much of a risk to dope, for there will always be people like Hincapie with no principles who will dope if there are no immediate consequences and a big payoff.

    Fatty, maybe you could ghost-write Jensie’s auto-biography. That would be hilarious. You could call it “Shut up…Legs”, or “Shut up…Hincapie”, or “Shut up…already” or something like that.

  24. Comment by Rob W | 06.10.2014 | 12:04 pm

    Yo Fatty….now that I re-read my comment above, it made it sound like I am considering doping. Nope! It should have read said something like, “I have been wondering whether or not amateur cyclist dope to win local races”.

    I don’t think it came off that way. – FC

  25. Comment by leroy | 06.10.2014 | 1:01 pm

    Your review reminds me why I like this blog. We both care about cycling and writing.

    You understand that good writing has rhythm, sound, and color. Screw up one of those elements, and the writing fails.

    But I don’t understand your close friend autographed photo phobia. Every year, my dog gives me a personally autographed picture of him with best wishes and made out to “Dear sir or madam.”

    He’s so thoughtful and his prices are reasonable. Are you sure you don’t want me to ask if he’ll send you one?

    You are thrice the writer I am. When I retire in a year or so, I’m giving this blog to your dog and you. Do with it as you will. – FC

  26. Comment by Sara | 06.10.2014 | 1:54 pm

    I agree with wanting to read a behind-the-scenes book about Jensie’s life, and if it were ghost-written by Fatty, it’d be even better!

    P.S. Rob W – When I first read your comment, I totally thought you were considering doping yourself! I had to re-read it a couple of times to understand that you were just wondering if it existed in amateur racing. LOL! :)

  27. Comment by Colleen | 06.10.2014 | 2:25 pm

    Very big disappointment. Lot’s of blow by blow accounts of races .. but very little personal information relating to George’s time as a pro.

    The big theme in the book seemed to be taking a shot at all of Lance’s enemies. He worked in Frankie, Betsy, Vaughters etc… And then he backed up the story that Lance and Johann did not encourage the PED use. Contrary to what others have reported.

    I have been a fan of George for years… can’t understand why he would let himself be used like this. I could not hear George’s voice in this at all but Lance’s fingerprints are all over it.

  28. Comment by Paul | 06.10.2014 | 4:47 pm

    I wouldn’t expect Hincapie to spill much about doping, see the book’s title of course. Still it’s disappointing that the book wasn’t more interesting, seems like there should have been good anecdotes about Lance and Cav if George was reticent about saying too much about himself.

    btw I have a Hincapie signed Discovery Channel jersey (picked up new at Goodwill of all places) that I wear with Mellow Johnny’s shorts. Not really an apologist though, Mellow Johnny’s was cool (what bike store isn’t?). I thought about taking some picures of the yellow jerseys on the wall, but just decided not to bother. (that was the summer before the Reasoned Decision)

  29. Comment by AKChick55 | 06.10.2014 | 6:32 pm

    First, NO PLEASE DON’T RETIRE IN A YEAR OR SO! That comment struck serious fear and panic into my heart. No Fatty? I would be a big sad panda!

    I do dearly love Leroy and his dog, but they aren’t you.

    also, SNORT on the neutered spam! awesomesauce!

    Wife #1 – YES on the Jensie book. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jensie! He doesn’t need a ghost writer, but can you imagine how much fun it would be to help him? I would love to meet his family and especially, his cute little black Lab Linda. :) I love when he tweets about her and posts pictures.

    Can’t wait to read about DavidH’s adventures!!!

    I’ve been planning to retire from this blog “in a year or so” for several years. I wouldn’t necessarily put a ton of stock in that statement. And THANK YOU for wanting me to stick around. That matters! – FC

  30. Comment by AKChick55 | 06.10.2014 | 6:38 pm

    Oh yes, and about George Hincapie and his book? Thank you for the review. I most def will not buy.

    Also, how weird is it that Anchorage is the host of the 2014 World Single Speed Championships??? They are in mid July! Hope the weather improves by then!

    Are you coming Fatty? I’m not even going to wink since I think you’d be a serious contender! Excuse to come to AK?! :)

  31. Comment by leroy | 06.10.2014 | 9:12 pm

    My dog and I certainly don’t want FC to retire.

    We’d miss his writing. (FC makes it look easy, but it really isn’t.)

    And my dog would never assume FC’s blogging duties.

    He never misses an opportunity to remind me he’s just not a working breed.

  32. Comment by AUChefD | 06.11.2014 | 6:41 am

    Thanks for the review. Perhaps the sub-title should have been, “How I am cashing in on Lance”. At least you would have been more prepared for what you read.
    I said all along that I don’t care what these guys did, it is over, just don’t vilify one and make the rest out as poor helpless heroes. They still can’t find anyone clean to give those yellow jerseys to.

  33. Comment by Mike | 06.11.2014 | 8:18 am

    I recommend Phil Gaimon’s book. It is an entertaining, honest & easy read.

    I am already reading this book and plan to review it soon. – FC

  34. Comment by Brandy | 06.11.2014 | 8:52 am

    I second Phil Gaimon’s book. Funny and a refreshing change from all the doping books.

  35. Comment by MattC | 06.11.2014 | 12:36 pm

    @AUChefD, AMEN brother! I’ve been over the doping thing for a while now. Quite honestly, I never had a dog in the hunt so to speak (ie: it didn’t PERSONALLY affect me), so why should I waste energy being angry about it? That should be reserved for the Frankie’s/Betsy’s, and the rest of those that were truly wronged, along with all the ‘clean’ racers in that era that were cheated (and yes, I mean both of them).

    There’s SO MUCH judgment going on over these guys decision to dope. Reminds me of the saying “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”. I can’t fathom having the talent and doing the work and finally arriving to your dream, “the show” of professional bike racing in the mid 90’s… and then being pretty much forced to decide whether to dope, to ride clean and most likely be 2nd tier your entire career (however short that would be) or to pack it in and go home. It’s quite easy to armchair QB this and say you’d have made a diff choice.

    And the OTHER saying that comes to mind is “let he without sin cast the first stone”. Anybody out there with NOTHING you’ve ever done that you’re ashamed of or wish you had done differently? Just my 2 cents.

    And Leroy, if your dog ever writes a book (you’d obviously be his ghost writer) I’d buy it.

  36. Comment by MattC | 06.11.2014 | 12:44 pm

    OH, and on a diff note, my brother Greg is out crewing for a friend riding the RAAM as a solo rider(it started yesterday morning down in San Diego). Here’s a link to the race tracking site:

    His friend is Dale Capewell, racer # 493 (I think). He plans to ride 300 miles a day for 10 days, roughly 20 hours a day in the saddle (if you can imagine that). They’re climbing in Arizona as of this morning, in the HEAT!

  37. Comment by Felipe P. | 06.11.2014 | 10:08 pm

    Another hearty recommendation for Phil Gaimon’s “Pro Cycling on $10 a day”. I couldn’t put it down! Candid, entertaining, sometimes heartbreaking, and other times tears-in-your-eyes funny.

  38. Comment by Andrew Valko | 06.12.2014 | 12:46 pm

    Hi Fatty, it would seem that your email account has been hacked. I’ve been receiving spam emails about once per week from your address for the past several weeks. You may want to investigate further to ensure no important details have been compromised. Cheers, Andrew.

    It’s not that my email account has been hacked, it’s that it’s spoofed. – FC

  39. Comment by Andrew | 06.14.2014 | 6:24 pm


    Great review, do more of these please, you just saved me a couple of bucks and hours of reading.

    I liked the objectivity in there and the idea that it took a comment or two above provided even more insight. So kudos to the readers you have accumulated.



  40. Comment by Mrflux | 06.15.2014 | 3:07 pm

    I just finished this book. I have to say, Fatty was much kinder than I would have been. How does one come off so badly in a book they write about themselves?

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