George Hincapie hopes to bring his new BMC Racing team success next year in North America's marquee cycling event, the Tour of California. The US National Road Champion pointed to several stages where he envisions a personal victory after checking out the organizer's new plans to move the route inland toward the mountains.
Last week the Tour of California owners, AEG Sports, released the start and finish cities for each of the eight stages in the fifth edition of the race, which is expected to cover nearly 800 miles. Although the specifics of each stage are yet to be confirmed, based on his general knowledge of the state's hilly inland terrain, the addition of a mountaintop finish at Big Bear Lake and an expected flat time trial in Los Angeles Hincapie has a good idea of places to make his mark.
"I think it will be interesting to go up Big Bear for the climbers," Hincapie told Cyclingnews. "I think the circuit they want to do in Santa Monica up 'Rock Store' climb is similar to Paris Mountain and that will be good for me."
"The time trial will probably be flat in LA, which is also good for me," he continued. "Overall I think the route is interesting and leaves the race wide open."
The flat Los Angeles time trial has taken the place of the iconic, hilly test, held in the quaint Danish town of Solvang for the last four editions.
"I think it will be interesting to do a time trial in downtown LA; it will be an experience," Hincapie said. "The Solvang time trial was probably a great combination of hilly and technical, it made it exciting for the spectators and for us. I don't know what the course is in LA yet, but I think it is good to change up the course to keep the fans exited and [travelling] all over to different cities around the State to watch the race."
Tour de France prep?
It is widely known that AEG requested a spot in May on the International Cycling Union's (UCI) 2010 calendar for two reasons. First, the typically warmer climate in May will allow the race to showcase parts of California such as the eastern Sierra Mountains, which February had prohibited because of cold temperatures and snow.
The second reason was to make the race more attractive for riders and teams who are serious about a strong performance at July's Tour de France. Hincapie, a 14-time Tour de France contender, agrees with the organiser's strategy. "In May people will be in better shape and also for the Americans it will be just as big. Maybe the Tour competitors will be preparing for July. It's good preparation for the Tour and might even be more competitive than the previous years."
Several top American Tour de France contenders have already confirmed that they will participate in the Tour of California, including the defending champion and three-time winner Levi Leipheimer. There is also a chance that his seven-time Tour winning teammate Lance Armstrong will join him as both commence racing next year under the Team RadioShack banner. Garmin's Dave Zabriskie is another rider to have confirmed his participation and he is likely to be joined by teammate Tyler Farrar. Columbia-HTC will showcase a dominant sprinter with either Mark Cavendish or Andre Greipel.
Asked whether he believed the Tour of California's new route would prove to be a suitable platform to train and test the legs prior to the Tour de France, Hincapie was confident that necessary elements would be in place. "Yes, I think so definitely. I think it's the mountains, the time trial and the competitors [that will provide good preparation for the Tour]. I think that it's an important race for Americans and America. It's a world class event."
A focus on the Classics
This year saw Hincapie enter February in top condition for the Tour of California, his earliest preparation in a 17 year career. The winter form was then carried on through the Classics. However, the shift from February to May means that Hincapie can enjoy a longer off-season and begin preparations for 2010 a little later, with the journey to California now coming at the end of the Classics season.
"I will start the year of slower," Hincapie said. "I won't have to be in great shape in February. I will be ready to go for the Classics then have a chance to recover for the Tour of California."
The UCI recently released the 2010 calendar with the Spring Classics scheduled to begin in March at Italy's Milan-Sanremo. The peloton will then head to Belgium for the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, France for Paris - Roubaix, The Netherlands for Amstel Gold Race and back to Belgium in April for La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Hincapie shared his two main goals for next year, despite it being too early to tell what the Team BMC Racing schedule will be in 2010. "Roubaix and Flanders are definitely my biggest goals for the season."
BMC Racing team was one of thirteen teams granted wildcard status by the UCI this season. It allowed the team to take part in events such as Paris-Roubaix and the Dauphiné Libéré. The squad will maintain their current UCI pro continental status in 2010 and are banking on a series of big-name signings - including Hincapie - to help them meet the UCI standard for wildcard status once again.
Joining Hincapie among the new riders for 2010 include Classic specialists Alessandro Ballan (2007 Tour of Flanders winner and 2008 World Champion) and Amstel Gold runner-up Karsten Kroon. Tour de France stage winner Marcus Burghardt has also been recruited along with Steve Moribito, Mauro Santambrogio and Alexander Kristoff, a neo-pro widely tipped for success in the professional ranks.
Hincapie's TOC ambitions
The BMC Racing squad have shown their clear intent to reach the goal of ProTour status, particularly through their acquisition of riders with experience at the sports highest level. The new signings could bring the team closer to their biggest goal, the Tour de France, perhaps even as early as this year.
In the meantime, Hincapie's focus extends from the Classics through the Tour of California. Asked if the increased strength on the roster also increases the pressure for BMC Racing to perform well in the Tour of California, Hincapie said, "Yes, but that was their goal to make the team bigger and have a stronger roster. More riders mean more pressure, but I think that every one expected that."
The full 2010 BMC Racing team roster has yet to be released and Hincapie says it is too early to tell what teammates will ride along side him at the Tour of California. However, he clearly hopes to bring his new squad as much success as he did for Columbia-HTC in the past.
"I'd love to win a stage," he said. "I've one three stages there already. I'd love to win another stage or maybe two."
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