An interview with George Hincapie, April 4, 2008
While browsing through the names of favourites for the upcoming Spring Classics the name of George Hincapie was almost forgotten by the European insiders. Despite great wins in semi-classics like the Omloop Het Volk, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Gent-Wevelgem in the past – without forgetting his runner-up position in Paris-Roubaix and a third place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2006 – the USA rider hasn't shown up in Flanders for a while. Brecht Decaluwé took a closer look at Hincapie's preparations for De Ronde.
Team High Road has been showing glimpses of its power during the semi-classics, with successfully breakaway efforts for Andreas Klier and Bernhard Eisel, but the USA-based team seems to lack a man that is able to get on the wheels of Tom Boonen or Fabian Cancellara when they attack on the famous cobbled climbs in Flanders. However, the man to do it could be 34 year-old George Hincapie.
Although nobody really knows how strong 'Mister No Chain' really is for this Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen and the following Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. His 2007 spring campaign was spoiled after a wrist-breaking crash in the Tour of California. This year, returned to California – where he won the ultimate stage – and then on to Tirreno-Adriatico and the first Classic of the season, Milano-Sanremo.
"When you've been up front in these races as much as I have, it is always possible to win. I think it is very possible for me to win – I just got to have some luck. I feel good and those guys are definitely not unbeatable." - Hincapie does not doubt his abilities.
The former Lance Armstrong domestique, who makes his home in Greenville, South Carolina, decided to skip the standard build-up for the big races; he did not start in semi-classics like the E3 Prijs, but chose the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde which ends only three days before the start of the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday in Brugge.
"I missed this race last year because of my wrist. It's important to come back and do some racing in Belgium before the Tour of Flanders. I did California hard, I did Tirreno hard and then Sanremo. If I went to E3 it means that I'm away from home for three weeks, and sometimes in cold and shit weather, so for me it's just better to come here and do De Panne and Flanders," Hincapie explained why he opted to skip the semi-classics.
During those semi-classics, and especially the E3 Prijs Harelbeke, two men – Belgium's Boonen and Switzerland's Cancellara – showed that they are the big favourites for victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Cyclingnews asked Hincapie if he had seen the exploit of power shown by the duo on the Taaienberg during last Saturday's race. "No, I didn't. But I heard they were strong though," Hincapie noted in a way that showed he was indeed impressed by what he had heard of their attacks.
Winning a Monument like Ronde van Vlaanderen is something many riders dream of, but even George Hincapie has not been able to accomplish that goal just yet, despite coming close on many occasions. "I was sixth and I was third," he reflected. "Obviously, Boonen was super strong there [2006 Ronde van Vlaanderen] and it would've been really hard to beat him, but tactically we could've done a little better, and with a little bit luck I could've done better.
"When you've been up front in these races as much as I have, it is always possible to win. I think it is very possible for me to win – I just got to have some luck. I feel good and those guys are definitely not unbeatable. They are the strongest guys and the guys to beat. We always got to try, and I'll do my best."
While many readers might think Hincapie prefers Paris-Roubaix over the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the American told Cyclingnews how he feels about the Spring Classics. "They are both about the same, very important." An unexpected answer, since Paris-Roubaix is the most well-known of the two in the USA. "I'm sure they [the USA public] wouldn't appreciate [a win] as much as the European people, but for me it is the same. It would be very important and a dream would come true."
For the first time in his career Hincapie joined a non-USA team when the Discovery Channel team pulled out at the end of the 2007 season. However, it was a short spell because when T-Mobile pulled out its sponsorship the team became known as High Road and its base changed from Germany to the USA. Hincapie was now riding for a USA team again.
"It's an international team although we are registered in America. It's like Discovery, where we had about 15 nationalities and I think it is about the same in this team," Hincapie tried to explain that it is not truly an American team he's riding for.
Actually, it was the first time Hincapie transferred to another team since he joined the Motorola team back in 1993. "There were definitely some nerves involved. But, you know what, as soon as I got to know the guys they turned out to be cool guys with a great attitude. It doesn't feel that different anymore. It's a lot of fun being with them. It's a kind of like starting over with all the young guys in there. I think they are the best young talent in the sport, with [Gerald] Ciolek, [Mark] Cavendish and [Bernard] Eisel... all these guys are super. They are the future of cycling and I'm happy to be with them."
Talking about the future of cycling, Hincapie also talked about the recognition for his performances back home. While a young George was watching videos of the Spring Classics, where guys like Eric Vanderaerden and Edwig Van Hooydonck reigned on the cobbles, it might be expected that a lot of kids are now seeing George Hincapie on their TV screens. "A lot of people are more interested in cycling and a lot of people tell me they've watched me. They are supportive and they want to see me win," Hincapie said.
Of course this is not only thanks to Hincapie, as it is probably caused by the multiple Tour de France wins of his friend and former team-mate Lance Armstrong. "Probably, he brought a lot of good things to the sport," Hincapie continued. Armstrong also brought him the nickname 'No Chain' but that's another story.
Hincapie proved to his team during the first stage of the Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde that he certainly going fast as he was spotted in the front during the finale. He launched one of the first attacks of the peloton, despite the fact that a crash had distanced a big group of riders a little earlier, and went on to grab three bonus seconds during the last passage of the finish line in Zottegem.
Look out for Hincapie this Sunday when he will line up for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, starting in Brugge. Surely the he will have another shot for glory in the Spring Classics, which he has been chasing for so long now.