An interview with George Hincapie, July 20, 2008
Team Columbia rider George Hincapie is riding his thirteenth Tour de France. The 35-year old rider made his bones as one of Lance Armstrong's faithful domestiques as the only US Postal/Discovery Channel rider to be on all of Armstrong's Tour-winning teams. Cyclingnews contributor Bruce Hildenbrand sat down with George as the race left the Pyrenees to reflect on a long and storied career in cycling's greatest race and what lies ahead.
Clearly one of the most experienced riders in the peloton George Hincapie has learned just about all there is to learn about getting through the Tour de France – and some days that is about all a rider can do. "There are always days that you just have to get through the Tour, even periods where it is just not good. But [you try to] not lose your focus on what you want to do."
Unlike the Armstrong years where the team was invisible for the first half of the race, Team Columbia made a huge splash from the start. "This year has been a bit different in the sense that we were so successful in the first week of the Tour. Now we have to see how we can continue with that success and maybe bring Kim [Kirchen] back to the podium or win a couple of stages. We need to figure that out," Hincapie said.
Hincapie first rode the Tour with Team Motorola, and discussed the differences between Team Columbia and his former US Postal/Discovery squad. "It is in the sense that, with Postal and Discovery we had one goal and nothing else mattered. Stages didn't matter. Jerseys didn't matter. It was just winning the race. Here, on any given day we have guys on the team who can win a stage whether it is Cavo [Mark Cavendish] or [Gerald] Ciolek in the sprints or Kim in an uphill finish or the other guys in breakaways."
"A lot of them are super-young, not much experience, but some of the most talented riders in the peloton" -Hincapie is impressed with his Columbia team-mates.
"It is really a diverse team. It is a lot younger team. A lot of them are super-young, not much experience, but some of the most talented riders in the peloton," added the five-time Olympian.
Throughout his career George has worn many different hats, from sprinter to climber to domestique. With his new teams, his experience has made him the de facto road captain. "I have different roles. When Kim was in yellow it was more of the person on the road calling the shots. Nowadays you only get time splits when a breakaway get 30 seconds. They [Team Columbia] look to me to to tell guys to start chasing immediately or let them go. Go easier, go faster or start jumping with stuff, just calling the shots on the road even for the breakaways and even now that we are not in the jersey."
In the Tour's first time trial, Hincapie showed everyone that he still has plenty of fight with a top-ten finish. "I wasn't particularly ecstatic with the result but I was happy that I was only 15-20 seconds out of the top three. That was more important and that was probably just a difference of pacing yourself or doing the time trial a bit differently than I did, so I was happy with that."
But, the Tour always provides ups and downs and in the first big mountains things did not go as well as planned. "In the Pyrenees stages I didn't have great legs, but I did a lot of work right before that so I was tired. But that is normal. Hopefully, I can bounce back and be strong in the next two weeks."
Hincapie has a unique place in Tour history, being the only cyclist to ride in support of eight Tour de France winners, seven with Armstrong and one with Alberto Contador. "It is tough to imagine somebody doing that now. It is even hard for me to imagine being part of eight Tour de France winning teams. So, I am definitely proud of that. I may have lost some chances along the way, but it is not something that I would change. I am happy with what I have done."
After toiling on the front of the Tour peloton selflessly for Lance Armstrong, one of the most memorable moments in recent Tour history was George's victory at Pla d'Adet in 2005. He can still remember how it felt that day. "It was just joy. That was probably won of the greatest days in my professional career. It is still really fresh in my memory."
Hincapie doesn't think the Tour has changed very much over his career. "The Tour is so aggressive. Obviously, the riders have changed. There are not so many of the same riders that were there when I first started, but the aggression is the same, the tactics are similar. The Tour is non-stop suffering. It is the hardest event in the world," he said.
Last year, T-Mobile, which became Team Columbia, was involved in several high-profile doping positives. This year Team Director Bob Stapleton has taken charge and engaged the Agency for Cycling Ethics (ACE) to oversee an anti-doping program for the team. Hincapie joined the squad after the program had begun, and thinks it will do a lot to change the sport.
"It should send a great message. We have one of the most comprehensive anti-doping programs out there not only in cycling, but in all sports and we are still winning. It should help bring faith back into the people who were starting to lose faith in our sport. We can't speak for everybody. We can't speak for the other teams, but as far as with the testing that we are doing, CSC and Garmin are also doing it, we are on the forefront of that," remarked Hincapie.
Now in the twilight of his career, Hincapie muses about what lies ahead. "I think I will be back here next year. I should be back here next year. Then after that we will see. I will take it year by year. I am really enjoying my time here with Team Columbia. I have a couple of other things that I am part of, the clothing company, a real estate development company back home and H3O, my sports management company. But, I still love racing my bike and until I am sick of it I am going to keep going."