August 26, 2012, the seventh and final stage of Colorado's USA Pro Challenge, saw George Hincapie (BMC) finish 23rd in the 15.3km individual time trial and thus bring his 19-year professional cycling career to a conclusion. The 39-year-old had worked selflessly all week in support of BMC's leader Tejay van Garderen, who won the stage to Mt. Crested Butte, wore the leader's jersey and ultimately finished second overall.
Hincapie's career highlights include victories in European one-day classics such as Gent-Wevelgem (2001), GP Ouest-France (2005) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (2005), general classification victories in Three Days of De Panne (2004) and the Tour of Missouri (2007), three national professional road championships (1998, 2006, 2009), four Tour de France stage wins (three team time trials, one road stage), a record-setting 17 Tour de France starts in domestique roles for Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans, podium finishes at Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders plus participation in five Olympic Games (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008).
On the final day of Hincapie's cycling career, Cyclingnews spoke to a diverse assortment of riders, both current and former, present in Denver, Colorado, and asked them to comment on Hincapie's legacy.
AXEL MERCKX - Bontrager-Livestrong director and former Hincapie teammate
"He's one of those icons. He was my generation. He was Lance's generation. He was the new after-Greg LeMond generation in the US. He's always been a gentleman on and off the bike, and I think he's had an amazing career. Everybody would have wished that he had won Paris-Roubaix one year because I think he deserved it, but he had an amazing career and amazing success so congratulations on retirement."
"The new generation is here, and his time has come to go, so he must see that maybe the motivation for training is harder or whatever reason it is to stop, it's time to stop, and there is only one person who can decide that, and it's the athlete himself."
"So there's going to be a big hole to fill there, but I think the next generation is here, and slowly you're going to see the new riders coming up and becoming the icons in their own turn. Then it will be 10 years later and we'll start talking about them again."
STEVE BAUER - Spidertech p/b C10 director and former Hincapie teammate
"The longevity of his career is pretty phenomenal. Just looking back to the time he turned pro with our team and I became a teammate with George as a young guy and I was more the veteran guy. Just watching him through the years with all his exploits and the Tour de France, it's pretty amazing. The big highlight for me looking back on George's career would be his win on Pla d'Adet at the Tour de France. Everybody loves a Tour de France win, and that was pretty spectacular for George. Such an honourable statesman and now businessman. I wish him all the best, we're certainly going miss him."
FREDDIE RODRIGUEZ - Team Exergy rider and Hincapie contemporary
"George and I go back a long way. He was the best man at my wedding when we were a lot younger, a long time ago. We were roommates basically when we were teenagers. We were fierce competitors and best friends. He's a very talented athlete that has put a lot of hard work into this sport. He's dedicated his life to this sport. And you know he's not gone yet. He'll still be here. He'll never be able to get off his bike. I told his wife to make sure and put him on his bike whenever he gets frustrated, just get him on his bike."
"He was one of the few Americans who's been in it for so long. It's not an easy sport. I always say you can't handle the pain. People always say, 'Aw, it must be great to be out there' but it's tough sport. We love that challenge of adversity, and I think that's one of the things that George really has been good at. He's gotten close to his challenge, which is Paris-Roubaix, and he didn't get it, and that's always going to be in the back of his mind, but at the same time, he's always going to know that he gave it everything he had and he was there, he was a player."
"It's kind of like the way I look at when I ran second at Milan-San Remo. I never got it, but I was there giving it everything I had. You have to be able to look back at your life and say, 'That meant a lot. That second place, that third place.' He's one of those guys that gave everything and not always won. He did win occasionally, and with a lot of guts and a lot of hard work."
CHRIS CARMICHAEL - Former Hincapie coach
"George has had such a long time in the pro peloton, I mean 17 Tours, his Paris-Roubaixs. He's part of the young generation of Americans going over to Europe and racing and really kind of fitting in. He started on Motorola and then kind of moved up to the Postal Service and through all his teams. I think ultimately George is respected by all his competitors. I know for me, it's a really kind of personal point because I was the national coach when George was 18. I selected him to the Olympic team in 1992 and coached him until about 2001. So to see him go full circle from when I first started working with him when he was 17 to now retiring, and everything he's accomplished, it's just an amazing point in US cycling history."
"It was always obvious he was a big talent, a really big talent, a fierce competitor and always a teammate to the core. He was always a selfless teammate."
JONATHAN VAUGHTERS - Garmin-Sharp team manager and former Hincapie teammate
"He's an impressively professional rider, and a really good guy. He's one of the kindest, most hard-working people that I've ever met in my life. One of my favourite photos of George and myself is on the podium at the national championships in 1988 for 14 year olds. I've known him ever since than and he's just a really good guy. He's just a quiet humble guy. He's a really solid individual."
[Have you seen any riders in the up-and-coming generation who remind you of George?]
"Ben King seems a lot like George. He's a solid domestique. He's out there every day and he's an all-around good guy. He's not the same, maybe he's not a sprinter or whatever, but he's got the same attributes."
BEN KING - RadioShack-Nissan rider
"Jonathan Vaughters said that? Wow! What a compliment. That's nice to hear. That really means a lot to me, because you know George is one of the older guys that I look up to, that's just done a lot to support our generation of cycling. I don't know George very well personally, but I do know that Taylor [Phinney] and Tejay [van Garderen] look up to him as well. So he's got my respect, and he's had the kind of career that I aspire to."
CHRIS BALDWIN - Bissell Pro Cycling rider
"George has been a guy that's inspired me for a long time for sure. He's one of the icons of the sport. His longevity is really impressive, and for an older guy like myself, I look to those guys like he and Horner who keep competing at a high level as they get older for inspiration to keep going. You see Horner having some of his best seasons in his late thirties, if not still having them. I think those guys will tell you that it's your mind and not your body that goes first."
JONAS CARNEY - Team Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies manager, former professional and Hincapie contemporary
"I've known George since he was probably eight years old. We both started racing super-young, he was from New York and I was from New Jersey. I'm a couple of years older than he is but we raced against each other for every weekend until I was 18 years old and then we were on the national team together."
"He's just such a good guy. A lot of guys get to be big famous bike racers and they develop big egos and attitudes. He's just one of those guys who's super-competitive and super-talented but he's just such a good dude."
"The only thing that really sticks out off the top of my head was I remember being at Junior Worlds trials when I think I was 18 and George was probably 16 years old. I was up against the US national team and they had about eight guys and I was pretty much by myself. I didn't have any help and I was getting ganged up on pretty bad. I ended up in the break with George and Lance [Armstrong] and I remember George just knowing that he was 16 years old and couldn't race Junior Worlds. He knew that I deserved to be on the team and that I was one of the best guys. I just remember him being really cool about it and not trying to gang up on me with the rest of the guys and actually try to help me out a little bit."
"He's always been a good guy like that and does the right thing. To this day he's always been a super-cool guy to me and I'll miss seeing him at the races."
FRANKIE ANDREU - Kenda/5-hour Energy director sportif and former Hincapie teammate
"He's had a fantastic career - best American Classics rider and he's had a ton of results that any cyclist would have dreamed to be able to achieve. That's not only individual results but the way he was a team player. I remember him when we were racing as a great friend and a great teammate. I think a big reason why he's so popular and that he's been able to race as long as he has is because he's down to
earth, he's humble, he remembers where he came from, racing from Farmingdale, New York, and he's just good...strong."
"When I was racing we used to compete in prologues and see who got the best time and stuff like that. I never realized how young he was then. He was just another competitor, a teammate of mine, but now that I've been retired for a long time and he's still racing it really sinks in - he really was a young puppy that I was going against. And here he is competing in Flanders and Roubaix and kicking everybody's butt, so obviously he has nothing to be ashamed of from his career."
THOMAS CRAVEN - BMC-Hincapie Sportswear Development Team director, former professional (Craven assumed role of second director for the BMC Racing Team at the USA Pro Challenge)
"I think back to when he first started coming down to Gainesville, Florida. We used to train down there back before I was even on Schwinn. We were all together and he would come down there and ride with us and we'd see how bad we could hurt him because he was just a big, tall kid and he was just so much younger than all of us. Me and guys like Matt Eaton would just go out there and see how hard we could go and we could never beat him."
"It's kind of fun just to be able to see him carry on for as long as he has. I stopped when I was 30 and he's kept on for a whole other 10 years."
"The other day in the race (earlier stage at USA Pro Challenge) he said he was bad, but George Hincapie's bad is 90 percent of the peloton's great. That's about all you can do to sum it up."
"It's tough to get up every day and do that, in the rain and the wind, snow and cold."
"I'm just glad the other day when it was windy and when it was raining, I can just imagine being cold like that and having to do it. It's fun when you're a kid but it doesn't get fun when you get older. I respect him a lot. That's why I signed on to be with this team. What better name to have associated with us, a development team. He's got a lot to give back to us and we've got a lot to give to him over the next few years so we can pick some guys up like these other teams are."
"He's a super-nice guy. It's hard to imagine how you can get up that many years, since he was 14 years old, and have something to do like this. I hope he continues on with us, with the Hincapie devo team, and integrate him more in the day-to-day to give him that feeling of staying connected with cycling."
"I wish him luck. It's a tough transition but he's got a lot of support, a lot of things going on, so I don't think it will be too difficult for him."
LEVI LEIPHEIMER - Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider and former teammate
"It's tough to express. I feel really close to George and there's definitely some love there like between Christian [Vande Velde], myself and George and our generation. We've put in a lot of time, taken a lot of bumps, we suffered, and like Christian said, 15 years of living over there [in Europe], we feel an incredible bond between each other because we've all experienced the same thing."
"It's been really hard. This sport is brutal, it's unforgiving and we know that success is few and far between so it's definitely sad to see George go. I think we understand each other. We don't get to hang out too much but we really understand what the pressure is like, we understand what the suffering is like, and it's kind of a signal that my career is coming to an end as well...but I love the guy."