An interview with George Hincapie, February 3, 2006
With a breakthrough stage win at last year's Tour de France, George Hincapie's stock rose even higher at the end of 2005. Categorised as Discovery Channel's hope in the spring classics, great results in Paris-Roubaix and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne proved that status. But his win on stage 15 of le Tour proved even more, and Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski found out how success last year has influenced Hincapie's approach to 2006.
When Cyclingnews spoke with George Hincapie little more than a year ago, talk was centred around the then 31-year-old finally escaping the demons preventing him from climbing to the top podium step in one of the famous spring classics - possibly even Paris-Roubaix. Well, 2005 didn't see Hincapie on the top step of the podium in Roubaix - instead, he found himself celebrating a win on the most difficult climbing stage of the Tour de France. From that moment on, Hincapie's cycling paradigm has been turned on its ear. And now that his team captain will be watching the Tour de France and not racing it, his aspirations and goals are shifting as well.
At first glance, it may seem surprising to call 2005 a 'breakthrough' year for a seasoned professional of over ten years like George Hincapie, considering the number of excellent performances he's enjoyed in that time. But with five individual wins, including stage 15 of the Tour de France (while playing a pivotal role in helping his boss win the Tour), it's clear that 2005 was a special season. No longer can he be viewed as a threat only for the one-day classics or sprint finishes - he can ride with and beat the best ascending mountains or even racing against the clock. So for 2006, with no clear leader yet appointed on the Discovery Channel team, George is training with new goals in mind.
I first asked Hincapie if the win on top of Pla d'Adet, and the ramifications of it, had really sunk in yet. "I've seen it like 3,000 times so it has sunk in! It made me realise that I am capable of more than I thought. Last year was a great year for me. It opened up new doors and it's made me a lot more motivated in training. I just hope that I can do even better this year."
Yet another motivation came in late 2004 in the form of daughter Julia Paris Hincapie. "That was the biggest change for me last year - having a child at home," he says, before adding, "It gave me a new motivation, a new purpose in life. I've got a family to take care of now, it's not just me - it was just me for a long time, but it has made me a lot happier."
Even with the spotlight more squarely on him, and the need to put more food on the proverbial table, Hincapie says he is not going to alter his approach to racing. "I really haven't changed much - I've always worked hard, and I've always been close to winning races. I just hope I've broken that barrier and continue to win. The difference between winning and coming in second or third is really not much in our sport, it's slight. You just have to play the cards right and I hope to continue winning. Last year I won five races; I'd love to win more than that and see how well I can do in the Tour this year. It's going to be an exciting year."
However, his approach to training has changed in recent years. "It's definitely been a new motivation this winter," Hincapie said of last year's success. "I find myself training more for the climbs and riding my time trial bike a little bit more - I guess I'd like to see how far I can go in the Tour. Last year was a great season for me and I hope to one-up it this year." Hincapie plans to build on that plan of retraining his body to succeed in the coming season. "You can train yourself to do a lot more things - ever since I trained myself to climb, every year I'm a little bit better on the climbs. I think that my body is really capable of reaping the benefits of really hard training - mountain training and time trial training. I really think I am capable of doing more things than I thought were possible."
Without Lance to look out for at the Tour, George will be one of the favourites to lead the team into Paris. Even though team director Johan Bruyneel says there are four possible candidates for the role, the smart money in 2006 is on George. Nonetheless, Hincapie is vague about his thoughts on the team roles other than everyone working hard and helping the team succeed. "We are definitely going to miss Lance; nobody is going to replace him. I've got a great relationship with the guys, and we want to have a good time and achieve the best possible results. Seeing the guys at training camp, everybody is in great shape and I think we are going to have a great season."
Besides the spring classics and the Tour, I asked Hincapie how he fancies other milestone races such as the world championships. "World championships is probably the most important one-day races out there. It's tough when we do the classics and the Tour - it's always hard to get that third motivation at the end of the season, you just want to go home and rest. I hope I can make it to world's this year, it's a good course."
Another favourable championship race is the new USPRO race for Americans only - set up in his backyard of South Carolina. Hincapie is genuinely excited about this new venue for the USPRO, a race he won back in 1998. "Yeah, I'll definitely [be there]," he says. "It's the first of September I believe - that's a good time for us. Hopefully I'll have good shape from the Tour - I'd love to do it and win it at home." This race will be another where he is sure to be a favourite, especially with the advantage of being a local. "Oh, I know the roads really well. I just don't know what course they are using yet. But they can make it really hard if they want to."