RM Interview Series: Craig Hummer

Craig is the co-author of The Loyal Lieutenant, the story of George Hincapie

RaceMill.com recently caught up with Craig Hummer, co-author of The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris, while he was in town.  Most of you cycling fans and athletes know Craig from his days covering the Tour de France, the Olympics, and many other endurance and action sports events on television.  But to really know Craig is to understand that besides owning a charismatic voice and television persona, he is one hell of an athlete.  After his days as an All American swimmer at Kenyon College in Ohio, Craig was arguably the best American surf racer of all time in surf racing.  Never one to hang up the speedo’s and kick back on the couch, Craig has become a passionate cyclist, and would likely be knocking on the door of a Cat 1 or 2 ranking if he were to focus on his criterium racing.  We were able to slow Craig down for enough time to hear about his experiences writing the story of Big George Hincapie, 17 time Tour de France finisher, a guy that married a “podium girl,” and quite possibly the most recognized professional cyclist who’s never worn the yellow jersey in Paris.  

RM: The book is great!  Amazon users have given it 4 Stars and a lot of solid reviews; how is it doing so far?

CH: Thanks!  It’s the number one cycling book on Amazon kindle downloads, and number two for hardcovers.  The publisher, HarperCollins, expects to have numbers coming in the next month or so.  (Craig texted us later to say the book just got named as an Amazon Book of the Month!)

RM: What was the main goal of writing a book with George Hincapie?

CH: The book isn’t so much a story about a cyclist as it is a story of a real guy who happened to be a cyclist.  It is a chance to get to know who George Hincapie is.  He also wanted to write this book to have an open conversation so that the young cyclists would never have to consider [doping].  It was his focus to be on the front of that movement, and to be a role model for moving on from this era of cycling.

RM: What did it mean to you to be involved with this book?

CH: Well it wouldn’t have happened without the support of my wife, Jennifer, who’s working on her next book, and her contacts with her agent, Jennifer Unter, who initially took my call as sort of a favor, but my elevator pitch convinced her that it was a worthy topic.  For me, I always was able to connect to the type of mentality to winning like Lance - more of the individual sport mentality.  George is almost the polar opposite of that. This was a great opportunity to write a fascinating story from George’s side of winning.

RM: Great Title!  Would you say that this is how George views himself to this day, the loyal lieutenant?

CH: Exactly, this is how he sees his role in life.  Today he is supportive of his familial role as a father and a husband.  That’s his role with the Hincapie Development Team, and with his sportswear business.

RM: Where others looked to be in the spotlight, it seems George enjoyed being the supporter and not the main guy.

CH: George definitely enjoyed the anonymity of playing the loyal supporter and found it safe in the anonymity of the team.

RM: To the dedicated cycling fan, the doping era probably doesn’t surprise many, but what does the general public think about it?

CH:  People are going to read the book with their own interpretation of things.  Some only see the black and white versus the gray.  We set out to help the people who see shades of gray not feel so bad about the sport.  But George didn’t want this to be a feel-sorry-for me book.  We wanted to show how he can turn a negative into a positive.  It’s the overall theme of the book to let the reader find something that he/she can hang their hat on and relate to.

RM: As someone who spent a lot of time interviewing and getting to know the cyclists at the Tour de France, were you surprised to learn about the doping?

CH: I was not surprised.  If you chose to read the tea leaves then you knew.  The difference between cycling as a sport is that it chooses to air their dirty laundry to the world - they want to cannibalize themselves.  The real issue of the EPO era can be summarized by the quote in the book by Jonathan Vaughters - “Drugs have always been a part of our sport, but the drugs that came about during George’s era dramatically changed the landscape.  It went from types of drugs that helped your performance by 1 percent to drugs that increased it by 10 percent.  You can’t overcome that with talent alone.  Physiologically, there’s no question he would have won more if doping didn’t exist.  In a fair world, he would have accomplished a lot more, not less.  It’s scientific fact.  Doping allowed others a larger advantage than him.”  Anyone who really followed the sport at that time that says they didn’t know has to be really, really naive.

RM: Are we past the doping days in cycling?

CH: I’m an optimist.  The majority of the peloton, say 90%, is past it.  But there will always be that 10-15% who sees cycling as a way out of that blue collar laboring.  To them the risk is worth it and there will always be the temptation to roll the dice.  With the current testing and the penalties, it has changed.  But I don’t think the [penalties] are severe enough.  If you dope you should be banned for life.  People are going to ask “if you feel that way, then shouldn’t George be banned for life?”  But the sport is different now; it has changed.  They need amnesty so guys can come forward - pick a date.  Anyone after that will be banned.  

RM: Athletes should now know - they have been educated.

CH: Everyone needs to learn from that era.  

RM: Do you see another great era in US Cycling at the classics?

CH: Guys like Tejay Van Garderen feel indebted to George for mentoring and showing them the path.  As Tejay says in the book “He taught me the lifestyle of a cyclist.  He opened my eyes to what it took to be truly dedicated.  I realized, this is the life I have to live if I want to be great. I vowed to be like him.”  Taylor Phinney is the perfect specimen with his parents both being incredible athletes.  There’s also a new group of young American cyclists - guys like Lawson Craddock who took third at the Amgen Tour of California, and Andrew Talansky.  

RM: Craig, you yourself have the swimming background, and now the cycling, add a little running, and is Triathlon next, maybe an Ironman?

CH: Funny you should ask.  If I can get my knees going, it’s something I’ve considered.  But - you’ll like this - right now I’m thinking of doing something that maybe only Laird Hamilton has done.  I just got a Stand Up Board and am shipping it off to Maine for my time there this summer to train.  I’m thinking of maybe doing a channel crossing like the English Channel on the SUP and then doing some great ride through Europe - we should talk about this!

RM: Craig, the book is great and thanks for sharing your insights into the book and cycling.

CH: Anytime!

For those that haven’t already purchased their copy of The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris head to Amazon.com to pick up a copy today!

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