While Lance Armstrong rated his performance as a B-plus at best, his team-mate George Hincapie's performance over the past week of the Dauphiné Libéré was an A++.
The 31 year-old from South Carolina won the opening prologue two Sundays ago, earning the right to wear the first maillot jaune of the tour. Although his spell in yellow lasted only two days, Hincapie showed his form was no fluke after finishing seventh at the time trial in Roanne. And last Saturday, on the most difficult day of the race from Albertville to Morzine, he was one of the last riders to stay with Armstrong.
Just before the penultimate climb of the Côte de Châtillon, the prelude to the much-feared Col de Joux-Plane, Hincapie spurred an attack that split the already thinned peloton, which saw the likes of Vinokourov, Klöden and Landaluze in trouble. It came back together, but it was a perfect, and for their rivals, ominous, pre-Tour de France drill for Discovery Channel.
"Yeah, I would say I'm right on track," said Hincapie to Cyclingnews. "I haven't raced for six weeks before this, so it's good to come here and ride hard, and try and get some good race fitness. No matter how hard you train, you can't train as hard as you race, so it's good to do this hard race. The course is super-hard here - maybe too hard! (laughs) - it's probably harder than some of the Tour stages, so it's good training."
Asked about his last comment on the difficulty of this year's Dauphiné, would he rate it as a little harder than previous years, or much harder? "Definitely, definitely [much harder]," he said without hesitation. "ProTour race now, 160 guys as opposed to around 100 last year, all the best teams are here, very aggressive, attacks at the start every day - so for sure, it's been a lot harder than it has been in the past."
On Sunday, Hincapie made it even harder on himself. When the breakaway he was in looked like coming back, he and teammate Yaroslav Popovych simply rode away from a rampaging field, incredibly keeping the field at bay for almost 100 kilometres, before taking his second stage win at the Dauphiné.
"I would never have dreamed of winning two stages," he said. "I trained very hard for this race, so to win the prologue was a really big deal for me. And today's stage, it was a really hard day, just brutal. So I'm really happy."
Asked if he's found his form in the big mountains a little surprising, given his pedigree as a man for the Spring Classics, Hincapie replied: "Nah...I've been feeling good, I've been doing a lot of work in the hills. I just did lots of mountain climbing intervals back home in South Carolina, trying to get as light as possible for the Tour. The form is good; I'm trying to get ready for the Tour, so I'm just happy with the way things are going."