By Gregor Brown in Compiègne, France
As George Hincapie heads into Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, he can say one thing no other rider can: "I have done the race 14 times; there is no one here with more experience than me." Those years of hard-fought battles against the elements, crashes, flats and fatigue are, he believes, his edge over the competition.
The American's Columbia-Highroad team is riding with high morale after its win in Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, and Hincapie says that he still believes it is possible for him to win in Roubaix.
"I don't dwell on the bad luck or the times that I have been close," the 35-year-old said. "I tell myself that it is possible.
Despite a history of crashes, some race-ending and some not, mechanicals and heartbreak in the race, Hincapie can look to strong finishes as evidence that he has what it takes. He took second behind Tom Boonen in 2005 and fourth in 1999 and 2001.
Yet he will have to set fire to Quick Step's fortress to capture the cobblestone trophy awarded in Roubaix's velodrome. The Belgian team ruled the biggest one-day race in its country, Ronde van Vlaanderen, last Sunday with the authority of an emperor. Ronde winner Stijn Devolder, two-time Roubaix winner Boonen and fresh-faced Sylvain Chavanel lead the team's charge. But Hincapie knows the "Hell of the North" is a race which is deals out a fickle fate.
"This is a tough race and they are not going to win with ease. They have to suffer as much as any of us. We won on Wednesday [Gent-Wevelgem] and they did not have anyone there."
Marcus Burghardt and Bernhard Eisel will be Hincapie's henchmen in the fight for the win. His secret weapon is Canadian Michael Barry, who was there for him in 2005 and the young Gent-Wevelgem winner, Edvald Boasson Hagen.
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