- First and foremost, George Hincapie
- Second and not far behind, Levi Leipheimer
- Third, Dave Zabriskie
- Fourth, Christian Vande Velde
- In addition, Jonathan Vaughters is reported to also be one of the witnesses. The news articles say he will also receive a reduced sentence. Vaughters is not racing but manages the Garmin-Sharp team.
The reason I listed George as first and foremost is that his testimony would be especially damaging to Lance. No longer would Lance be able to say, with a straight face at least, that the witness is deranged or deluded or it's sour grapes or allude to a book deal as motivation, etc. Here is how the NY Times put it:
Of all those riders, Hincapie’s testimony might be the most damaging. In cycling circles, he is called Big George, a man who stands out in the peloton for his 6-foot-3 frame, and more so for his loyalty to the cyclists he has helped reach the top of the sport. He has made his living as a domestique, a worker bee who helps the team leader win by protecting him from the wind, from attacks by other teams, and from anything else that could get in the way of the top rider’s success. He has ushered three riders to nine Tour victories.
“If he appears on the witness stand against Lance, I’m sure it will be terribly conflicting for him, but it is going to be historic because cycling’s code of silence will truly be broken,” said Joe Papp, a former pro cyclist and convicted steroid trafficker-turned-antidoping advocate. “He has the reputation as an all-American clean-cut guy who defines everything that is good about this country. He just carries that much weight. As far as the credibility he has with respect to Lance, he is unimpeachable.”
Hincapie’s word would be especially harmful for Armstrong, considering the two have said they are as close as brothers. Like Andy Pettitte, who testified against his friend Roger Clemens at Clemens’s perjury trial, Hincapie is likely to be a reluctant witness, and thus might seem even more credible.I will add that Levi is not far behind George in terms of loyal friends. Of all the people who have been in pro cycling with Lance, those two have got to be his closest two associates. It will be amazing if they testify.
Now, another really interesting thing about this is Lance's reaction. Before you read how he reacted, try to imagine what you would do if you were innocent and you heard that your best friends in the peloton have agreed to testify (inaccurately) that you doped. I think the normal reaction would be to be baffled, amazed, and confused and in denial. You would expect an innocent person to say: "No way George will be testifying against me. This is a lie. George knows I'm innocent. We are best friends and he would never lie about me. They all know I'm innocent. This must be a false report."
Instead, here is how Lance reacted:
“Come in and tell @usantidoping exactly what they wanted to hear in exchange for immunity, anonymity and an opportunity to continue to race the biggest event in cycling,” he said. He added that the “riders in question” are also “victims of @usantidoping’s unfair process and antics.”He doesn't say anything about how his best friends could never be making such outrageous claims. Instead, he attacks USADA (who he praised in the past). He implies that USADA somehow got his best friends to lie against him! What?! He has that low of a regard for his friend's integrity?! He thinks that USADA can somehow get them to lie?! This clearly appears to be a response from someone who is backed into a corner and sees no way out.
The riders have generally stated that they have no comment. Interestingly, George's response is one of sympathy and sorrow for Lance. This suggests to me that George knows the next shoe to fall will be a serious one. Here is what he is quoted as saying:
“I feel like I’ve always done the right thing for the sport,” said Hincapie, a five-time Olympian who is riding in his 17th Tour, adding that he sympathizes with Armstrong. “I’m sad he is going through this,” he said. “He’s done so many things for the sport. His accomplishments are incredible.”Interestingly, the reports say that Lance has not yet stated whether he will fight the charges or allow them to sanction him without fighting. Apparently, his decision to fight or to accept sanctions, possibly even stripping him of his seven titles, must be made by next week at the latest.
Last, I want to point out the most ridiculous response I saw in reading about this development. In the Bleacher Report, the author, Michael Hatamoto, made this closing statement:
If the U.S. federal government dropped its case against Armstrong, I’m not entirely sure what the USADA would be able to gain from this investigation. Armstrong could be stripped of his Tour de France victories—but more shockingly, witnesses in the case still in the professional peloton would also suffer. This seems less like an investigation for justice, and rather like a witch hunt to punish Armstrong to any extent possible.Huh?! You've got to be kidding me! You're not sure what USADA would gain from this investigation? Imagine that you're USADA and you have testimony from Lance's closest associates. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming that is true. Now, let's consider these statements made by this supposed journalist. (For the record, I usually don't read the Bleacher Report; this confirmed to me why I don't need to read it again.)
Back to this guy's logic: Just because the US Government dropped their investigation you don't think USADA can gain by punishing an underground doping mafia that the top cyclists in the field are prepared to testify was led by the person who was able to win the Tour de France more times than anyone in history? If they don't act on this evidence, cycling will remain a joke as a pro sport as everyone will believe it has to do with athleticism about as much as World Wide Wrestling does.
And why is it shocking that witnesses who are still in the peloton will suffer by getting their hands slapped when they admit that they doped? We wouldn't want USADA to slap any hands of dopers and cheaters in a sport that USADA is meant to keep clean!
Finally, why is this a witch hunt? I love the witch hunt comments. It must be a witch hunt if five of Lance's closest associates will testify that he was cheating and encouraging others to do likewise?! The logic escapes me...
In any case, it's looking more and more like Lance's days as a hero worshipee are numbered. My guess is that even if they strip him of all seven titles, Michael Hatamoto and a few others will still worship him though. As for me, I might try to give away his books and DVD's before nobody will take them from me.