An interview with George Hincapie, April 13, 2008
USA's George Hincapie was near the top step of the Paris-Roubaix podium three years ago, and has seen the race slip out of his hands in numerous other editions. However, as Gregor Brown of Cyclingnews discovered, the 34 year-old rider is ready to conquer Hell as part of his new Team High Road.
The most vivid memories fans have of the rider who resides in Greenville, South Carolina, are of him slipping into a muddy ditch in 2002 and of his steer snapping in 2006, but they are wise not to forget 2005. Three years ago, he nearly won the 'Hell of the North' when he made the winning move of four, only to be bettered in the sprint by his former team-mate, Tom Boonen.
Last year he was side-lined from his favourite event due to a wrist injury sustained in the Tour of California. However, the new year promises many changes for Hincapie, thanks to switching from Discovery Channel to High Road.
"We have a great team, guys that can work, guys that have won Paris-Roubaix before. I hope that I have good legs and that the team will work for me so that I can remain in the front and finally win," said a confident looking Hincapie in his new team gear.
"The team is great," he confirmed while readying to go on a training ride with his mates, the day before Sunday's 259.5-kilometre Paris-Roubaix. "The riders are fun to be with – strong riders, experienced riders. I am really enjoying my time with Team High Road."
Hincapie proved his form was on target in Three Days De Panne and then in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. In the latter, he rode aggressively and had the team support he needed, notably from Bernhard Eisel.
My confidence is "not really higher [after Ronde]. I had planned on being good this week. In Flanders, I did not have a super day but I rode good – I rode aggressively. I hope I have a super day tomorrow, and I can do that much better."
He downplayed his race in Belgium last Sunday even though he had suffered with the favourites in conditions that included snow and hail, eventually going on to finish fifth.
Since Sunday, he competed in the mid-week Classic, Gent-Wevelgem, while trying to remain "fresh."
"I have really just been riding easily," he said of the last week. "We did Wevelgem; I took the day off after Wevelgem [laughs - ed.] because I feel like I am in shape, and – more than anything – I want to make sure that I am fresh for tomorrow."
Hincapie pointed to the usual favourites for Paris-Roubaix, while keeping an eye on any unexpected riders. "Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Alessandro Ballan," he noted of the key men to watch. "However, there are always surprises at Roubaix, and I am sure I am leaving out a lot of names."
He did not mention himself as a top rider and agreed that the press often overlooks him too, even if it is for the better. "That is fine with me," he stated of the forgetful media.
"I am healthy, I am strong and those riders know who I am even if the press does not speak about me. They [the favourites - ed.] are not going to let me go. I don't mind not being talked about in the press, I just want to go well in the races."
The Trouée d'Arenberg is the traditional 'real' start of the race. The sector 18 (of 28 in total) comes this year with 95 kilometres left to race. "It depends on the weather," he said of Arenberg's significance. "If there is bad weather then the first cobblestone section becomes very important... It really just depends on the weather."
Just like the weather, Hincapie plans to be aggressive. "You will definitely see me attacking; I was attacking last week in Flanders and I plan to do the same on Sunday." Where? "I don't know yet [laughs - ed.]. We will see.
"I think it is very possible to win. I am always there, I know that I am as good as the guys who have won before; so I just need some luck and I need everything to go well on Sunday.
"Absolutely, I want to win it," continued Hincapie. "It is an amazing race with so much history; it is one of the most beautiful races on the calendar. ... It is as important as the Tour [de France]."
Paris-Roubaix's fame comes from its risks. Over the years the race has cruelly taken out many top favourites with a flat tire or a broken bike. Two years ago, Hincapie's chances were dashed when his steerer snapped with less than 60 kilometres to race.
"I don't think about it too much," he confirmed. "Yes, I was unlucky, but I try to think about the future and not what happened in the past. That was a terrible moment for me in my career, but there are a lot of other things that have happened to me that have been good, so I don't need to focus on that."
His focus won't be altered by the weather, which is likely to be rainy and cold. "I will do my best and not let the conditions bother me. If it is rainy you got to be way more focused and you have to have more luck, but I can still ride on the wet cobbles as good, or better, than anybody.