Photo by Scott Schaffrick
Last time the Daily Peloton checked up on George Hincapie, he was just preparing to leave his home in South Carolina for his return to his European home base in Girona, Spain, and the European peloton, after a sustained illness that has sidelined him this year like never before, and never having been in a position like that at any other time in his career, Hincapie's hopes were modest.
"I will be racing the Tour of Belgium just to get back into things." He told us, "Although I am out of shape, I will just try to get through it and use it to try to gain some fitness."
Since then, George has finished the Tour of Belgium, coming in 7th overall in the final G.C., only 52 seconds off of Michael Rogers' winning time.
Heading back into the fray, Hincapie was a little apprehensive. "It was a bit nerve racking at first," he says, "Racing in Belgium is never easy, especially with it being my first race back, I didn't know what to expect."
Despite a little pre-race nervousness, George was active in the breaks on the first 176 km stage, leading out teammate Max Von Heeswik to score bonus sprint points, and finishing with the pack in respectable position. Hincapie is feeling his strength return.
"The first couple of days went pretty well." he reports, "I was lacking some speed from not racing, but felt like I was getting some power back."
The biggest surprise for George was his strong performance in stage 4's 20.6 km individual time trial, where he turned in an excellent performance for 10th on the stage, only 35 seconds off Fabian Cancellara's (Fassa Bortolo) winning time. Says Hincapie: "I hadn't ridden my time trial bike all year. I just jumped on it, did a little warm-up lap, and felt pretty good, so I rode the time trial hard and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was not far behind the leaders."
If Hincapie surprised himself, he also surprised his team and directors. After Hincapie's ride in Belgium, US Postal director Dirk Demol said "George Hincapie in particular surprised me in a positive way. His condition clearly is much better than we had dared hope for. We hope he can continue to grow to a top condition, but it's already obvious that George will be ready for the ultimate goal of the season, the Tour de France."
Hincapie is pleased, but more conservative, valuing his return to health above all. "The most important thing for me now," says George, "is that I feel healthy." In the coming weeks, he will continue to race and build the fitness he needs to join his teammates and do the job he has done so well in Tours de France past. "I will race the Tour of Catalunya," he says, "and I will not know if I will be on the Tour team until after that."
Hincapie also reports that the outlook is good in the US Postal camp, and the decision of which riders make the tour will be tough. "The guys for the tour are so strong this year. Johan is going to have a hard time picking. I know that they want me there, but I just need to prove that I am ready."
With his fitness coming back quickly, and his motivation high, it's looking good for him to do just that.