When people think of of mountain biking in British Columbia, the first thing that often comes to mind is the Whistler Bike Park. Famous as it is, the park tends to cast a shadow over the valley's wide network of singletrack, which bring you even closer to nature. On this particular day, Paul Stevens catches a glimpse of the Cheakamus River while riding just outside of town.
During his career, Hincapie completed the Tour de France a record-tying 16 times, won the Gent-Wevelgem spring classic, took home the National Road Race Championship title on three occasions (one later stripped), and was a perennial contender at Paris-Roubaix. He retired from racing professionally at the end of 2012, and now plays an active role in Hincapie Sportswear and the professional Hincapie Sportswear Development Team.
In the following exclusive excerpt from his book, Hincapie is confronted by Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, who pressures him to testify.
From: The Loyal Lieutenant
It came down to a choice, or really an ultimatum. Either I agreed to talk to USADA or my racing days were over.
I spent the week in between the Tour of California and the National Championships on the phone with my lawyer as he negotiated how and when I'd testify. Throughout those days, I vacillated constantly as to what was the right decision.
I didn't have to talk to USADA, but because they governed my sport, if I wanted to keep riding professionally, they held all the power. We finally agreed that I would talk to them right after Nationals. I almost told them to fuck off, and decided to retire. I called my brother and told him that was my plan. I was tired of fighting. I just wanted it over. But then I realized if I did do that—if I thumbed my nose at them, issued a press release, admitted my doping past, and said my sorrys—nobody would have believed I cared about the sport or tried to change anything.
If I stayed in, as painful as it would be, I could still race and still be part of the change. I would send a message—I'm still here doing what I've always done, and that's help the best.
Christian Vande Velde I feel the biggest change was from the inside, and it happened long before 2012—which is a compliment to teams like Slipstream and Highroad. The hardest pill to swallow is that we'd done a majority of the work to clean up the sport before the investigation.
Roughly forty-eight hours after crossing the finish line in Greenville [at the National Championships], I was on a conference call with Travis Tygart and his USADA team. With that call, I felt I went against everything I had stood for my whole career. I had been the "loyal lieutenant," the one guy people could count on. It's what had defined me, and now I was being forced to turn on my teammates, friends, and associates.
After that phone call, I struggled. I knew that I was the last pawn they needed. Once they got me, it was all over. They'd promised a reduced suspension and a statement saying I was part of the change in the sport. Their validation counted for nothing. I'd already been part of the change way before they'd come along.
This footage, this mountain biking, this turn—it’s how we all wish we could ride. It’s the riding we dream of when we sleep. It’s veritable perfection.
And yet some haters have written it off. They’ve said that stunning, beautiful, arcing turn had nothing to do with the wheels but with the perfectly constructed radius of the berm. They’ve contended that you can see the 29-inch wheels flex in the video and argued that 26ers could have done it better. There’s even a thread out there asserting that the video is a hoax expressly because he’s riding big wheels.
The pigheadedness kills me.
A few months ago in Sedona, Arizona, I rode with an excellent rider, a friend of a friend, let’s call him Xavier. He was ripping fast, both uphill and downhill, and, incidentally, he was aboard a 26-inch Specialized Enduro. Twenty-six inch wheels are a disappearing breed*, so I enquired if he’d considered sizing up. Xavier’s reply was automatic, “You couldn’t make me ride a 29er. They’re awkward. Slow.”
“Have you tried them?” I asked. Of course he had not. Dogma, it turns out, is as blind as it is resolute.
But there are rational people out there, too. I was back in Sedona last week and had the pleasure of riding with an old buddy of mine, Mike Raney, who owns Over The Edge Sedona, and his friend Nate Hill. Raney is an ex-downhill pro, and last year Hill won the overall at the Big Mountain Enduro. Both were riding 29ers, Raney on a Trek Fuel EX 29 and Hill aboard a Yeti SB-95 Carbon. And both charged the trails as if they were aboard motos.
Hill just got his SB-95 a month ago, and it’s his first foray on any wheel other than a 26er. “I’m sold,” he said. Will he race the big wheels this year? “Yes, depending on the race,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll still roll the 26er at some events. But I’m feeling fast on this bike, too. It will make for hard choices.”
That’s the thing. I’m not arguing for 29er supremacy. I don’t really care if you ride 26 or 650B or 29. Hell, if it makes you happy, get a 24-inch bike.
But if you’re one of those people who insists on disparaging 29ers , please stop acting like a stodgy, old curmudgeon and cut the grousing—at least until you’ve given it an open-minded try or three. Actually, even if you try them and hate them, just shut up and ride your 26er. Nobody cares about wheel size but you.
*Most fork manufacturers have ceased tooling for 26-inch forks. Wheel builders, most notably Shimano, have abandoned the size in their new line-ups. And major bike manufacturers like Trek, Scott, and Giant have all but discontinued 26-inch bikes. If you’re a 26-inch devotee, now would be a good time to stock up.
In his new memoir, athlete and coach Shane Niemeyer opens up about his journey from a drug addict and convict to a top Ironman competitor. The Hurt Artist, co-written with Gary Brozek and set to release May 20th, reveals how Niemeyer’s suicide attempt in prison marked a personal turning point. Today, Niemeyer lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado, and has qualified for the Ironman World Championships four times. We talked to Niemeyer about his new book and life story.
OUTSIDE: Was it hard to open up about your past? NIEMEYER: My past is my past. There are a lot of things I’m not proud of, but they happened. Going through the process with the writer, Gary Brozek, helped me examine my life in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. We talked for hours at a time. I was really open to him. If I were writing the book alone, I would have left some things out. It was painful.
How well could you remember the parts of your life when you were doing drugs? There was a stretch of my life when the only way I could piece things together was through criminal justice and rehab records. I’d been to three different psych units and rehab four or five times. There was a two-inch file of documentation on just one psych institution I was in.
Why was your suicide attempt in prison a turning point for you? At that point in my life, I had no hope. I had despair. To look at death by suicide as a viable solution is a really tough place. Having come through that crisis in tact really shook something inside of me. The only thing I had left coming through that was freedom, because I had nothing to lose. Before, I was afraid I’d be a failure. On the other side of that, there was a huge relief, and an emerging sense of hope and gratitude. I realized how lucky I’d been. I knew I needed to quit using drugs and alcohol.
What was it like to start physical training in prison? Prison is a place to reform yourself. All you have is time. If you can use that time to your advantage, you can really create a new life. In the beginning of me working out, there were no facilities. I was really out of shape. My liver was still swollen. I was really toxic. I was overweight. It was hard in the beginning to walk up stairs.
How soon did you start to see a physical transformation? In the beginning, progress is so fast because you’re not working from much. For my first workout, I did a few sets of six pushups and a few sets of sit-ups. It was something. The next workout, I did more. In four, five, six months I was lighter and much fitter.
Were you the only one training in prison? There was definitely a group of inmates working out. I was probably more serious than most. I wanted to be more than fit. I’d developed an urgency that I needed to achieve something great.
Why did you choose Ironman training? I think I took a very pragmatic approach to taking a new identity for myself. I needed to improve as a person. The physical part was crucial for a lot of reasons. I didn’t know what to do with my guilt and shame, and the exercise became an outlet for those emotions. It was like a release valve. I knew I needed to do something big to swing my life the other way. I wanted to channel my extreme behavior in another direction.
Do you think Ironman training appeals to you because it is another form of addiction? Everyone who is a competitive cyclist or swimmer of runner is a little bit tweaked in the melon. Distance triathlons definitely suit people who are a little compulsive or imbalanced. Most well-rounded athletes do other things, and Ironman is pretty one-dimensional. I know a lot of elite athletes who freak out if they miss a workout. There’s an obsessive element to it. I try to avoid being too over the top, but if you only want one thing, to be successful you have to be one-dimensional.
How do you avoid fixating too much on your training? A lot of athletes talk about themselves so much. My training and my workout. They lose touch with humanity and what’s going in the world. I try to make sure I follow the same process I did in prison. I try to stay in the present moment, be aware of what I’m doing, and be aware of others around me. I try to be compassionate. I read a lot and try to expose myself to new ideas.
How has your wife, triathlete Mandy McLane, helped you stay grounded? She takes me down a couple of notches. She’s a professional athlete and one of the top women in the country, but she identifies herself as a speech and language pathologist first.
What were your biggest mistakes in starting Ironman training? I read an article in prison that said pros going to Kona biked 280 miles a week, ran 50 miles a week, and swam seven days a week. I tried to jump onto that. I spent a lot of time over-trained. I still tend toward that at times. Another huge gap has been my lack of attention to detail in nutrition. If my caloric intake is off 20 percent, it impacts my entire day.
What was your first race like? I raced a Half Ironman. It was very demoralizing. I didn’t realize I could have cramps like that. Everything locked up on me. That was five or six months out of prison. I didn’t realize how I could get to the point where I could finish a whole Ironman three months later.
Did you finish that Ironman? The whole Ironman actually went a lot better. Crossing the finish line was a culmination of 14 months in prison, and all the training I did there. It meant I’d stuck with something, that I’d achieved something. I hadn’t achieved anything in so long.
What are your racing goals this year? On [May 17] I race Ironman Texas. I want to go Top 15 and get my spot to Kona. I raced and qualified for the Half Ironman Championships a couple of weeks ago, so that is one box checked off.
How have you done at Kona in the four years you’ve gone? I haven’t had a good race out there yet. I can be very insecure at times, wondering if I belong. I’ve been trying to work on my mental game. The heat also plays a role, and I’m trying to work on my nutrition.
Do you regret any part of your past? I regret that I hurt people, my family, my community. I hurt society. You’re not making any contribution. The lying and the deception. Not being a good person.
Are you in a good space now? I am definitely in a good place. My life is the way I envisioned it when I was in prison. My former life seems like a bad dream.