A cheer for the anti-cheaters.

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In case you've been living under a rock and haven't noticed a new face on the sports magazines, say hi to my boy George. (Hint: He isn't the guy with the Tiger paws on his shoulders.)

No, not Boy George.

George Hincapie.

George has spent the last seven years being Lance Armstrong's faithful lieutenant during the Tour De France, and is the only American ever - other than Lance - to help lead a team to seven consecutive TDF victories. I could go on and on about how much George kicks ass, but I won't. Not today. Just take my word for it. The guy could absolutely win the Tour De France this year, which would put him in the illustrious company of guys like Lance and Greg Lemond.

Now... I know George. He lives here in Greenville. He and his brother Rich started Hincapie Sportswear here several years ago. My business partner Roby (f360 photo+design) has been Hincapie Sportswear's designer since day one. We both had the privilege of shooting a cover and a spread with George for Velo News earlier this year, and I can tell you from having spent the better part of a day with George that he is a class act.

He's the real deal.

And like millions of cycling fans worldwide, I thought that Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, Tyler Hamilton and scores of other top riders were the real deal too. Like millions of cycling fans, I was looking forward to an incredible Tour De France this July. The first Tour De France without Lance Armstrong in seven years. All of the big names duking it out to wear yellow in Paris.

Like those millions of fans, I thought... it won't be the same without that guy from Texas... but damn, is it going to be exciting or what?

This was going to be the battle of battles.

The big free-for-all.

The one when the guy with the most guts and luck and karma won.

Just like the good old days.

I was going to root for George, of course. I was going to wear nothing but Hincapie Sportswear gear all month... but I knew that I was also going to be rooting for Jan and Ivan and a slew of other guys on the days when they toughed it out on the steepest, roughest climbs in France.

This Tour was going to be epic.

But this morning, a doping scandal shattered a year's worth of expectations. 20+ riders were forced to pull out of the 2006 Tour De France at the last minute. Some of them were the top guys. Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Tyler Hamilton.

Cheaters? All of them? I guess we'll soon know... but the evidence seems pretty solid if they were pulled from the Tour so abruptly. This time, it isn't just a couple of people looking to write a tabloid book, throwing accusations around. This is a police bust. This is a truckload of evidence. Surveillance photos. Blood samples. Signatures. Records. Money transfers.

(Insert the "F" bomb here.)

I was relieved (though not surprised) to note that George's name wasn't on the list of dopers.

Like I said, George is the real deal. In a sport notorious for drug scandals and rampant blood doping, he made a choice: He opted not to cheat. He opted to ride for Lance. To ride for the US. To ride with integrity. Even if it meant never winning against guys who cheated.

Years ago, George could have jumped ship and signed a more lucrative contract with another team. He could have left Lance behind. He could have said yes to a few cocktail injections... and then a few more... and then a few more. He could have made the choices that almost every top rider in the Tour apparently made. He could have justified it all, reasoned it out, and grown to accept it as a necessary evil.

He didn't.

There's something to be said for integrity. For courage. For making the tough choices. There really is.

Imagine if Enron had chosen a different path. Adelphia. AOL Time Warner. Arthur Andersen. Bristol-Myers Squibb. CMS Energy. Duke Energy. Dynegy. Global Crossing. Halliburton. Homestore.com. Merk. Mirant. Qwest Communications International. Tyco. Worldcom. Even Xerox. The guy who tried to sell me my first "real" job, which turned out to be everything but.

Cheaters and liars suck.

They sucked on the playground in elementary school, they sucked on the soccer field in high school, they sucked during exams in college, and they suck now, whether they're in the Tour De France, the Olympics, the political arena, or in the corporate world.

Watching the Tour without the guys I thought were above cheating isn't going to be as fun as it could have been. It isn't going to be as exciting. And I feel kind of bad for George, because he may never know if he could have beaten them all in the toughest race on Earth.

Had the playing field not been tampered with.

They robbed him of that. They robbed us all of what would have been a historic race. They raped their sponsors' trust the same way that Enron execs raped the trust of their investors.

And for that, shame on them. Shame. Really.

But it'll still be an incredible race. It'll still be historic. And the guys who didn't cheat will hopefully have a level playing field. Other guys like George, who couldn't beat riders on the juice will now have an opportunity to shine. A whole generation of clean riders may emerge out of this. New heroes. New legends. New role models. That's exciting.

So to George and everyone else out there who won't sell out, everyone out there who chooses not to cheat or cut corners or screw somebody over to get ahead, even if it costs them their job, or an extra couple of zeros on their next paycheck, or that big promotion, or that gold medal...


This July, I'm going to be cheering for one of us. For George. Patient George who's been working his entire life for this one chance. A chance to do it right. A chance to win it all. The right way. Years of blood, sweat, patience, sacrifices and integrity. This July, I'm going to watch all of that pay off.

I invite you all to do the same. It'll be worth it, I promise.

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