George Hincapie is the only member of the US Postal team to have ridden with Lance Armstrong into Paris on all 4 of his victories. This year marked his 7th start in the Tour de France, and perhaps his strongest performance ever in the tour.
George surprised a few people this year by pulling like a rock star at the head of the unbelievably strong USPS blue train heading into the last climb of even the toughest mountain stages in le tour; though perhaps only because we were underestimating the strength, consistency and steady perseverance that have marked his entire 2002 season. While Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin were going "absolutely potty" over his over 5 km Postal tow up the bottom slopes of La Mongie, George was just doing the job he knew he had in him. He worked hard for the mountains this year.
Known for keeping a cool head under pressure, and for always being there when he's needed, Postal's big engine did not disappoint. He gave everything for the team's victory, and placed a respectable 59th overall.
The Daily Peloton checked in with George after the tour and asked him how he managed, as Paul Sherwin put it, to "drag his huge carcass" up the slopes; what made the Postal team so strong; and how it feels to ride with the champ into Paris for the fourth time.
George, I think the very first thing I have to ask you is where did you find those climbing legs?! You surprised a lot of people leading out the full 9 man Postal train up the last climb of those super hard days! You told me before the tour that you were feeling stronger in the mountains, and I guess you weren't kidding!
Thanks. I was never really a terrible climber.
There were a couple of reasons why I was climbing better this year. First one: anybody who knows where I live probably understood my improvement. I have to go up a pretty hard 5k climb to just to get to my house everyday. This year I was climbing better already from the beginning of the year, so I think Johan decided to save me for a little longer into the stages, and I was able to do more work on the later climbs.
I knew the last week would be really difficult, so I have been mentally prepared for that. I have ridden stronger and more consistently this year, more than any other; so I was ready for it.
I've been hearing Lance Armstrong say again and again that this year was the year of the team. What do you think made the team so good?
Every year the tour gets harder, and there is more pressure on us. I think every year we work harder and having the experience really helps as well. Our team rides together; together being the key word. Johan drills that into our minds every morning. Even if we have to go slower on one climb and let some guys go, as long as long as we stay together, we'll eventually regain control.
You were so strong this year! How did it feel to you? Would you say that this was your strongest tour ever? Which day of the tour was the hardest one for you, and why?
I felt great this tour, I would have to say that I felt better in this tour than any other.
The first stage was my worst, but that was probably just getting all the nervous energy out of my system. Just sitting around for 4 days before the start and then starting and going full on for 200k was not so easy for me. the mountains days were all hard as well. On some of the stages I would have to do everything I could to hang on to the first group so I could help on the climbs or the valleys at the finish.
You told me before the tour that it's never easy, but USPS sure made it look that way this year! How did the difficulty of this year's tour compare with the others?
Some people ask me if the tour seems routine, having Lance Armstrong win again. That, to me, is crazy; just finishing the tour is a huge accomplishment.
Every rider that crossed the line in Paris, had to sweat blood and tears at one point in the race just to get there. There is so much that goes into every day; crashes, weather, sickness. Being in the best shape possible is very important, but it does not make it easy.
In the US, we miss the beginning of the flat stages, before the break gets away. You said before the tour that those were some of the most nervous parts of the race. For days, I was hoping to see you in a breakaway, and heard that you were trying for that? If so, What prevented you?
On the earlier days some of us were trying to get in breaks, but that was just part of having guys up there to limit our work in the back. I tried on some days. Those days are really nervous and dangerous.
It was hard to stay together and keep out of trouble, but we did a good job of it.
What is the best memory you will take away from this year's tour?
After pulling on the bottom of La Mongie, Eki and I were riding up the rest of the climb easy. I could still hear Johan over the radio, and I heard about all of the guys getting dropped, and then I heard that Igor got dropped; meaning Lance was on his way to get the yellow.
It was a day that could not have gone any better for us.
How do you feel now that the tour is over?
I am pretty tired, but I am going to try and rest up this week. Hopefully I have some good races left in me the next month or so.
You have been part of the team that rode victorious onto the Champs Elysees for the past four years! What is that moment like? Having won with your team four times, is it still as exciting as ever?
Riding that victory lap is so special. There were so many Americans cheering for us, as well as everybody else. They always play "We are the Champions," and I had goose bumps the whole lap. That makes all the hard work worth it, and it makes me want to be even better next time we're back.