By Gregor Brown
When it comes to winning one of the major Classics, George Hincapie has been America's eternal hope for the last decade and despite numerous near-misses he'll start this weekend's Tour of Flanders aiming for the win. Having finished 10th, seventh, fifth, fourth and even third in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Hincapie is still a believer, and more importantly, still a contender. On the eve of Ronde van Vlaanderen, Cyclingnews spoke with the 35-year-old veteran about his preparation and his chances of claiming one the races he's desperate to add to his palmarès.
Hincapie's season to date has been a tale of two parts, or rather two roles – that of dutiful domestique in the early races and now as team leader as the cobbled Classics start. In the Tour of California, he helped teammate and sprinting sensation Mark Cavendish to two stages and ably assisted Michael Rogers towards third place overall.
From there be travelled from his home in South Carolina to Italy's Tirreno-Adriatico to aid Thomas Lövkvist. Hincapie led the peloton on the race's key mountaintop finish on Montelupone. Tall, and built more like a sprinter than a climber, he led the likes of Gilberto Simoni and Danilo Di Luca up the 21 percent slopes. Lövkvist was outside the top runners but Hincapie had made his mark. He was coming into form at just the right time.
He kept his domestique hat on the next stage, this time working on the flats for Mark Cavendish. He single-handedly closed the final escape and led his British rider to victory, four days before the sprinters' slugfest at Milano-Sanremo. In Sanremo, with the stakes much higher, he took over from his teammates' work to guide Cavendish over the closing climbs and on to the finishing straight – it worked and Cavendish took the biggest win of his young career.
He proved he was on form when he arrived in Belgium for the E3 Prijs. In the race that features Ronde's climbs he held his own with the favourites despite chain problems. He finished a credible eighth, behind Tom Boonen and Filippo Pozzato, two of the favourites he will compete with on Sunday.
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