An interview with George Hincapie, July 17, 2005
Revered man for the Classics, George Hincapie, looked a far better bet of winning Paris-Roubaix than a mountain stage of the Tour de France. But today, under an ulterior motive, he did the latter, outriding and outlasting his 13 other breakaway companions to win his first stage of the Tour de France - and the hardest one at that, as Anthony Tan reports from Pla d'Adet.
How did he do it?
"Initially, the beginning was very hard and there were a lot of attacks. We didn't say anything about me going in the break or anything at the [team] meeting, but I thought if I go in one of these breaks with 10, 12 guys, I'll be able to get a good gap and definitely be there for Lance on the last two climbs," he explained. "So I kind of decided by myself to go on my own in one of these breaks, get a gap and be there when he needed me.
"But we ended up getting 18 minutes and once Johan saw that, he said: 'Listen, George - you're probably not going to come back here now, you can do your own race. From then on, I started thinking about the win and thinking it was possible."
No, George - how did you do that?!
Hincapie smiled before answering: "Well, two things. There was the '99 Tour, and all of a sudden, we had to pull up these big climbs. I just went up as many mountains as I can, and every year, I seem to get a little bit better on the climbs."
It may seem like a overly-simplified training schedule, but it's a plan the 32 year-old has stuck with for the past seven years. This year, straight after the Spring Classics, where he earned his best result ever after finishing second in Paris-Roubaix, Hincapie went back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina to recover, refocus and retrain his body and mind in order to help his best friend Lance Armstrong win a seventh straight Grand Boucle.
The morning before the final stage of the Dauphiné Libéré - which he also happened to win in another highly impressive two-man breakaway with teammate Yaroslav Popovych - he told Cyclingnews: "I've been doing a lot of work in the hills. I just did lots of mountain climbing intervals back home, trying to get as light as possible for the Tour. The form is good; I'm trying to get ready for the Tour, so I'm just happy with the way things are going."
Hincapie has a habit of timing his second peak in July to absolute perfection, and from the very first mountain stage of the 92nd Tour de France, it was apparent this year was no exception. In fact, it was the very next day on Stage 11 where Hincapie made note that two of his most dangerous companions in today's break, Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), were performing below what he expected.
"Well, I knew Pereiro was very strong, so was Boogerd - both are very good climbers - but I also noticed that on the day I was pulling on the Galibier, they weren't there, so I thought I'm as good as them on the climbs," he said.
"I told Pereiro we needed to work together to go away, but you couldn't even go past him there was so many people, there was no room to go. So I just stayed behind him and in the last k, I knew that I could outsprint him, for sure." It wasn't quite the way Pereiro saw it, but as they say, a win's a win, and for Hincapie, it's a dream come true.
So what did Lance have to say?
"He just said, 'Unbelievable!' We didn't have much time for words; he was going one way, I was going the other way, but he gave me a big hug - Lance was excited, Sheryl was excited... everybody on the team was just super happy."
Said Armstrong: "George is my best friend in the team. We have been friends for a long time, from the time we were juniors. We've spent 17 years together on the bike. It his first stage victory on the Tour and to do that in the mountains is incredible. It's perfect."
With a win of this magnitude, there's been idle chatter about Hincapie changing his focus to becoming a GC rider himself, but for the moment, George's shying away from talk of that nature. "I don't know... some people are whispering that, but I'm thinking about today, thinking about next week; it's going to be very hard and every team's looking to attack our team, so let's get through this Tour and see what happens," he said.
"I'm trying to deal with one thing right now - I just won the biggest race of my life! - let me think about this and other stuff later. You know, I've been working for Lance for a long time, and for him to say stuff like that is pretty amazing, and if they want to give me a shot, I'll do what I can. But like I said, I'm just so very excited about winning today and going to try and enjoy it as much as I can."
Okay, George - no more questions about future Grand Tour aspirations - but would today's victory be on par with a win at Paris-Roubaix, a race you've dreamed of winning as long as I can remember?
"You know, they're both so different. Roubaix is like a different planet from what today is," he told Cyclingnews, "but I say they're both as important. To win Roubaix would be a dream come true, but to win a mountain stage in the Tour is probably something that I think I could do less, so today's kind of a bigger surprise."