South Carolina newspaper The State has named Discovery Channel rider George Hincapie as its 2005 Professional Athlete of the Year, and in an interview with the paper, Hincapie has looked back on his greatest moment of 2005: winning stage 15 of the Tour de France.
"I've been racing professionally 12 years, won big races, races no Americans ever won," Hincapie said, referring to victories such as his 2001 Gent-Wevelgem win. "But winning a stage of the Tour was 10 times bigger than anything I've ever done, 10 times more attention. It shows how popular the Tour de France is, how many people are watching."
Hincapie said he was feeling unusually strong, "super good" when he got in a breakaway on the road to Saint-Lary Soulan in what was considered the 2005 Tour's queen stage. His role in the 2005 Tour, as it had been for the previous six, was to support Lance Armstrong, after spending the months between the Spring classics and July transforming himself from a Classics endurance and sprint finish specialist to a mountains super-domestique. But with Armstrong comfortably clear of any of the breakaway riders, Hincapie was given the chance to shine.
"It was nerve-wracking," he said. "At that point, there were 15 guys left in the breakaway, several guys who on paper are normally stronger than me on climbing. A lot went through my head: I didn't want to mess up the chance."
Just over two kilometres from the finish, Hincapie said he realised his sprint would give him a decisive advantage. "Wow. I think I may win this thing," he thought.
That win immediately led to speculation that Hincapie might step into Armstrong's shoes as Discovery Channel's contender for the Tour, and it looks like Hincapie might get a crack at the general classification in 2006. "The team is talking about supporting me on the Tour," he said. "It was a hard seat to fill [and] they all want to see what Lance has done. But I think I can do a lot better [than Hincapie has in the past], not having to work as much as I did [for Armstrong]."
"How far I can go, I don't know. I haven't been in that position," Hincapie added. "But it's an exciting thing."