Lance Armstrong is set to team up with several members of his former US Postal Service teammates this weekend, including three who were part of his 1999 Tour De France victory, at the Gran Fondo Hincapie on October 25, reports VeloNews.com.
Although Armstrong is serving a lifetime ban, this weekend’s event is unsanctioned and he’s free to participate.
Asked why he was taking part in the event, he said: “I’m going because George Hincapie is a good friend and he asked me to come. He’s been awfully supportive of Anna [Hansen] and mine’s work with Wapiyapi [a small private fundraising dinner and ride], so I wanted to return the favour.”
Along with Hincapie, other riders who were part of the controversial 1999 team who are taking part in the event include Christian Vande Velde, and Kevin Livingston.
All three including Armstrong, testified about his drug use, and their own, in the USADA report two years ago. They all received varying punishments following the report.
Speaking about the event, Hincapie said: “The Fondo is not supposed to have an intended or implied message; at least that’s not what we are shooting for. It’s just a celebration of cycling with friends and fans that also supports what we feel are important causes.
“I know I’ve made mistakes along with some of the other riders in attendance, but I believe in, and hope for, second chances for everyone. I’m very fortunate to count many former and current professionals as friends, and will leave it to my peers to decide how they regard me, and the event.”
Mixed with this group are several notable names from the younger generation of American racers, including Tejay van Garderen, Brent Bookwalter, and Larry Warbasse, all of BMC Racing, Hincapie’s last team as a professional.
“I can see the curiosity of people, wondering why we would choose to associate ourselves,” said van Garderen. “It was frustrating for me to learn about all the stuff that happened in the past, and I think I was right there, with a lot of people, being angry about the news that had come out.
“I don’t think he [Armstrong] is the evil guy he’s been depicted to be, in all these books and movies, but I suppose that is ultimately going to be left up for people to decide for themselves. Lance took the brunt [of the USADA investigation], much harder than anyone else and in my opinion, he might deserve a bit of a break.”
Alex Howes (Garmin-Sharp), who is also competing in the event added: “For us younger guys, this newer generation, it’s been kind of a balancing act. Learning how to be friends with them, help them kind of reintegrate into clean cycling. And also kind of create our own identity I suppose, as a generation.
Opinion is split between the 25 surviving Tour de France champions on whether Lance Armstrong was winner of the Tour