SOLVANG, Calif. (VN) ─ Former Lance Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu spoke out in support of Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie Friday afternoon, following news reports that both have testified to federal authorities about their former teammate’s use of performance-enhancing drugs.
After reports surfaced that Hincapie’s grand jury testimony implicating Armstrong in doping activities would appear alongside Hamilton’s confession on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Andreu told VeloNews that Hincapie was the most trustworthy rider in the sport and that his thoughts were with Hamilton.
According to reports from CBS News, the number of former U.S. Postal riders testifying against the seven-time Tour de France champion is piling up. Andreu, a teammate and confidant of Armstrong’s at Motorola and U.S. Postal between 1992 and 2000 — and during his battle with cancer while both were employed by Cofidis — stood behind Hamilton and Hincapie Friday.
When asked about Hincapie, with whom he rode on the national team and professionally for much of his career, Andreu said, “You can’t find a nicer guy, a more trustworthy guy, a more respected person in the peloton. Lance has ripped apart, attacked and shredded anybody that’s said anything against him. I don’t know that that would work against George. Lance has even called him ‘a stand-up guy.’”
When Hincapie infamously missed the yellow jersey at the Tour de France in 2009 by mere seconds, Armstrong said via Twitter that, “Nobody wanted to see him in yellow more than me.”
Earlier Friday, Andreu told VeloNews that the burden Hamilton carried for years as he denied his own performance enhancing drug use must have been enormous.
“I’m sure it’s mind-crushing having to deal with this for such a long time,” said Andreu. “I didn’t go through the process of having to deceive or lie to a lot of people. He’s going through something I never had to deal with. I came out and admitted it and that was hard enough, for sure, and what he’s going through is going to be extremely hard also, especially with the Lance camp.”
Andreu and Armstrong were professional teammates starting in 1992, when the promising young Texan joined Andreu’s Motorola team. Both joined the U.S. Postal team in 1998 and Andreu served as a trusted lieutenant in three of Armstrong’s Tour victories.
The two have had a rocky relationship recent years after Andreu privately testified and later publicly affirmed that he and his wife were both present when Armstrong allegedly confessed to his doctors that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in the years leading up to his 1996 testicular cancer diagnosis. Armstrong has repeatedly denied Andreu’s allegations. Andreu was the focus of a special section on a website that Armstrong tweeted a link to yesterday, facts4lance.com. Under the heading “Andreu is not credible” Armstrong charges that his former teammate’s testimony and public statements have been inconsistent at best. The site also features pages devoted to topics such as “Hamilton is not credible,” “Floyd Landis & 60 minutes” and “Most tested athlete in history.”
Andreu and his wife Betsy each testified in depositions in the civil suit that resulted from an insurance company’s refusal to pay Armstrong a $5 million bonus for winning his fifth successive Tour de France in 2004. Company officials tried to withhold payment following doping allegations outlined in the book “L.A. Confidential,” written by the Sunday Times of London’s chief sportswriter David Walsh and former L’Equipe reporter Pierre Ballester. Armstrong eventually won the suit when an arbitration panel found that the contract between the insurance company and Armstrong contained no provision allowing the payment to be withheld in the event that the Tour winner had cheated.
Andreu worked as a reporter for the cable television network Versus during its coverage of the Tour de France, regularly placing both men in front of the camera each July. Andreu, however, was relieved of that position two months ago by Versus management. He will not appear in the network’s 2011 Tour coverage.
Andreu said that Armstrong must have had some inside information regarding the forthcoming episode of 60 Minutes.
“Ripping into me, he must have some incredibly inside people to know what’s going on at 60 Minutes, because I don’t even know what they’re going to show,” said Andreu. “I made my deposition and that’s all I had to say.”
In describing his comments from the show, Andreu said that he is hopeful for the new generation of professionals and that they face a completely different landscape than he did during his career as a rider.
“In my quote from the 60 Minutes piece, it talks about how a lot of riders might have felt pressured for doping in the past. There are a lot of people here who raced during that era also, not necessarily riders, other people here also who may have been in that same situation,” said Andreu. “On the Kenda-5-hour Energy Cycling Team presented by Geargrinder we don’t tolerate doping at all. There’s a lot of teams, managers, sponsors and this event especially, the Amgen Tour of California, have put a lot of money and effort into making sure the riders don’t face that situation again. This race now is a completely different page than racing back in the ‘90’s.”
Andreu said that he hoped that the flow of information regarding Armstrong’s alleged drug use continued the process of improving the sport for future professionals.
“The past was a mess and if things continue on the way … you don’t want people to feel that they don’t have a choice or to feel that kind of pressure. The way the system is now is much better,” he said. “The Tour of California does a fantastic job with all of the testing. Everybody realizes what’s at stake now so they’re not making the mistakes they did 10 years ago. But unless you really know what went on back then, there’s a good chance to repeat it. That’s what I think Floyd (Landis) doesn’t want to happen, I don’t want to see happen, everybody doesn’t want to see happen. I think it’s part of the process.”