By Kirsten Robbins in St. Louis, Missouri
Discovery Channel's treasured rider, George Hincapie, marked his first stage race win since the 2004 Driedaagse van De Panne in Belgium at the Tour of Missouri, a race that also marked the end of a more than decade-long era with a team he called home, Discovery Channel.
A win highlighted by the support of his winning Tour de France team along with yellow jersey holder Alberto Contador, Hincapie acknowledged the team's final presence on US soil as an important and fitting way to end.
"We brought a great team here because it is the last race we do as a team here in the US and so it was very important for us to bring a strong team and try to get the win," said Hincapie. "Fortunately I got in a great breakaway on the second stage and was able to hold on to that. Having a guy like Alberto Contador and the whole Tour de France team working for me, it was really special. And I will definitely miss all the guys in the next couple of years."
Hincapie took an early lead after his stage-two win in Clinton and solidified a larger lead during what has been commented on as being the toughest time trial in the US. Thousands of fans lined the streets along the route to watch Hincapie and the Discovery Channel team lead the race, providing support not only on the finishing circuits but through quaint towns and rural side roads. Upon entering the five hundred metre finishing straight away of the last stage, Hincapie noted the fans that filled the streets for a big farewell.
"It is really special for us to have the crowds come out and support us for the whole week," said Hincapie. "They are happy to have us here and I am happy to have been a part of that. The whole week the fans have been thanking us and the guys on my team aren't really used to that. So it has been a really special race for us. In my opinion our team is well liked all over the world but we were especially well [received] here because we are the home team and the fans don't get to see us race that much as they do in Europe."
Instead of focusing on the ending of the Discovery Channel team, Hincapie has chosen to concentrate on holding onto the knowledge of being a part of the team's progress over the years. "It is sad to see such a great team, in my opinion one of the best sporting franchises in any sport in history, end," said Hincapie. "But I like to focus on the fact that we created this mainstream sport and that we made this sport a lot bigger now here in the US and we've done more than any other team in cycling. It has been an amazing run for me personally. So I'd rather focus on how big it was to be a part of it."
Though the Tour of Missouri was the last race for the Discovery Channel team on US soil they will continue their race obligations overseas. Hincapie is set to compete in the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, in two weeks. He acknowledged that this was a good preparation for the Worlds without getting burned out in races like the Vuelta a España and the Tour de Pologne. "I think it has been a great preparation and this time of the year it is important to keep the legs rolling but not to overdo it," said Hincapie. "I think most of the other guys might be overdoing it in Spain and Poland. I'm proud that I was able to win the race but my team did most of the work and I was able to come out of it fairly fresh. I think that it has been a great preparation."