Tales from the Peloton, September 13, 2005
As the tales of suffering from Hurricane Katrina continue to pour forth and the country tightens its belts in response to the unprecedented national crisis, Americans turn to their heroes for hope that miracles do in fact happen, and that dreams do come true.
In Greenville, South Carolina, last Friday (September 9), thousands of sports figures, city dignitaries, and cycling fans gathered downtown for George Hincapie Day, where they saluted local hero George Hincapie, whose dreams, backed by talent and fueled by hard work, have evolved into some of sport's most inspirational moments. By his own admission, Hincapie has always allowed himself to have a vision of success. Even so, moments before the parade in his honour, he said he never in his wildest imaginings thought that he would have a city-wide celebration named after him.
"It's a huge honour to have a celebration in my name. It's something I would never have imagined," he said. "When I was 10 years old, I could never have imagined something like this. But it shows you dreams do come true." More than ever, George Hincapie Day shows how deeply rooted Hincapie has become in the cycling community during the four years he's lived there.
"My cycling has improved dramatically since I've lived in Greenville. I think it's the weather, plus I have a great network of friends and family and a cycling community that help me. My favourite climbs are Caesar's Head and Paris Mountain, and that's where I test my fitness," says the winner of the mountainous Tour de France Pla d'Adet stage. "People are always asking why I live in Greenville and I think it's my little hidden paradise," said Hincapie. "It's the best place to ride your bike in the country."
And as much as Hincapie loves Greenville, Greenville loves him back, for the hope he inspires and the honour he has brought their city. "Not every town in the United States has a TdF stage winner," says Chris Askew, a 14-year-old junior rider on the local Les Amis team. "Cycling has become a big sport in Greenville because of George. He's my role model because he is one of the reasons that I am riding. If I lived in another town, like Columbia, I probably wouldn't be riding."
The festivities began with a bicycle parade, led by flag bearers and bagpipers. Next, cycling clubs from across the region rode down main street, forming a bicycle wheel salute at the end of the route. Hincapie, who is only the eighth American to win a solo stage at the Tour de France and the only other American, with Lance Armstrong, to be on a team that has won seven consecutive Tours, was joined by surprise guest Armstrong on the stage for the awards presentation and comments.
After presentations by Greenville Mayor Knox White and US Senator Jim DeMint, the crowd listened to an address by Armstrong, who payed homage to his first lieutenant and long-time friend.
Though Armstrong drew his share of cheers, the majority of noise was overwhelmingly for Hincapie. And though some members of the crowd did ask Armstrong if he was going for eight Tours, most surprisingly hounded him to return in October to race the Greenville Classic. Armstrong wouldn't answer any speculation regarding his return to cycling, but he did mention that Hincapie can take a place in history by becoming the first cyclist to be on eight consecutive winning teams, a thought that caused cheers amongst the decidedly pro-Hincapie crowd.
Armstrong went on to testify to Hincapie's love for Greenville, saying that he's been trying to get Hincapie to move to Austin for years. He then challenged the city leaders to name the new bike path after Hincapie. "This new bike path will need a name. This new bike path should be named the George Hincapie bike path," said Armstrong. "He'll even ride on it."
Armstrong continued to praise his teammate and friend:
"When we met in the late '80s, he was already a legend. I never imagined then that we'd be teammates for a long time. I never imagined that we'd do the Tour de France. I never imagined that we'd win one, and I sure never imagined that we'd win seven!' he said. "I'll never forget the day in 2003 when I wasn't doing my best. I had one more day to win the Tour de France and he came back to me and said "Man, you're gonna win it today." That's the kind of loyalty and teammate I could never replace."
"This is the least I could do for a man like that," he said.
"There's a lot I'll miss about cycling and George is one. This city and state is very lucky to have a person who every time he turns around is trying to make the world a better place," he said. "There's no telling what George is going to do next year." For Hincapie, Armstrong's presence was an added honour to an already heady day.
"It's a huge honour to have him here. The seven years have been an amazing ride and for him to make time to be here is amazing. I'm very proud to have done all seven Tours. No other team has won the TdF seven times and it's an experience I'll cherish forever," says Hincapie. "As for Lance, I hope the best is yet to come."
"Lance has always brought me my dreams. People often ask me why I stay on the team, but coming into the Champs Elysees with the yellow jersey for seven years knowing that I've been a part of that, there's no way I'd give that up," Hincapie says.
As for himself, Hincapie says he'd like to win some more TdF stages and focus on some World Cup events. He says his summer win on Pla d'Adet was definitely the high point of his career. "Once I got the go ahead to go for the stage win, it was mixed energy. It was the chance of a lifetime and I was trying to think of how I would be able to take advantage of it, and trying to stay focused," he says. "The last 100 metres of that stage are a memory I go back to often. It's very vivid in my mind," he said. "A wave of emotion ran through me. It was a good experience. I hope there's more to come."