By Bjorn Haake
George Hincapie has come close in the major Classics many times, but has yet to win a big one. His Columbia-Highroad teammates are ready to sacrifice themselves for the 35-year-old American on Sunday in Paris-Roubaix.
Columbia-Highroad's Manager Bob Stapleton explained the unanimous support for Hincapie. "George has ridden for the team from the day he started with us," Stapleton said. "Now we really hope George can do something big towards the end of his career. All the riders are very dedicated to him."
Hincapie himself is more than motivated for what his preferred race. "There's only one objective for me and that's to win it. It's the one big thing missing from my career. I'd still keep going [and not retire if I win], but maybe I wouldn't come back to Roubaix. I'd always want to end it on that note," he said.
"Paris-Roubaix is such an epic event. It has always been a really appealing event for me because of the whole history it has. You could easily fill several coffee table books of photos from just that one race because it's so special."
In Wednesday's Gent-Wevelgem, the American once again showed his team support qualities, helping younger teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen to victory. "Hincapie was essential in Boasson Hagen's success," added Stapleton. "When Edvald went to the front, George slowed the field down and later nobody was able to get back on to the duo."
Despite having scored solid wins himself, Hincapie is always a dedicated domestique. "You can see that consistently, leading out sprints in the Tour last year or the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California this year," Stapleton said. "I think his teammates all feel like they want to give George the best present they can on Sunday."
Hincapie cracked the top ten several times in l'Enfer du Nord ("hell of the north"). His best result came in 2005, when he was runner-up to Tom Boonen.
The American can often count on strong teammates, who occasionally even finish in front of him, such as Tom Boonen in 2002. Despite the team's support, the same could happen this year. "Burghardt is going to be strong too, I wouldn't underestimate him," Stapleton said. "He was really good in Flanders and obviously good [in Gent-Wevelgem]. It's his big dream, too."
Having multiple strong riders in a race like Roubaix is essential, due to the amount of luck needed in avoiding mechanicals in key sectors of the race.
When Hincapie is not the protected rider, he enjoys cheering on the young riders. "He is a huge fan of [Thomas] Lövkvist, a huge fan of Cav and obviously of Edvald," Stapleton said. Hincapie and Boasson Hagen roomed together this week, something Stapleton said was good for both. "George is a pretty quiet guy, too, and it was good that they got to talk."
Hincapie can give tactics and training advice to the younger ones, but also some essential off-road tools. "George is very professional and he knows how to take care of himself, when to rest and how to keep the distractions away from him. Those are all the little skills you learn as a professional and George is really good in demonstrating that."
The team went to ride over the critical cobbled sections of Paris-Roubaix on Thursday.
Also see: George Hincapie pre-Flanders interview.