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Hincapies Hard at Work!
 
By Jaime Nichols
Date: 7/31/2003
Hincapies Hard at Work!
 

A passion for the bike is not the only thing the Hincapie boys inherited from their father, he also taught them the value of hard work. Both George and Rich are self-starters, who have built what they have from the ground up. "Our work ethic was ingrained in us by our parents, who basically came here with nothing," says Rich. "I'm a super hard worker," adds George, "I'm definitely grateful for everything I have, but at the same time, I know I worked super hard to be where I am."

So, while George finishes up another victorious Tour de France, and heads into the Fall Classic season with fresh legs, more motivated than ever, Rich is home at Hincapie Headquarters in Greenville getting the family business off to a roaring start.

George Better Than Ever in France


George worked up a sweat in France...
Photo by Todd Kohli
Click for larger image

The arduous road back to health and form paid off big for George in this year's Tour de France, when he and his fellow U.S. Postal teammates were able to protect and bolster their flagging leader in the early part of the tour until he was able to take up the gauntlet himself in the Pyrenees. Together and with Lance Armstrong, they faced a whole host of little and big problems and prevailed, largely because of their strength as a team. The only member of the squad to ride with Armstrong into Paris for all five of his Tour de France victories, Hincapie is an important lynchpin in that effort. This year, despite his early season setbacks, George rode powerfully, turning in his best performance yet: "I felt great," says George. "It was definitely my strongest tour ever, and it’s very encouraging that I was able to do what I was able to do."

This year's little jaunt around France was a hard one for the Postmen, fraught with uncertainty and disaster that they’d always avoided in past years when Armstrong swept his opponents away early, and by minutes. This year, he held onto yellow by mere seconds for much of the race, against a strong challenge. It was a tense, nervous tour, but George says high pressure is par for the course: "The tour is always hard. It might look easy on TV, but it's tough every year. We had a bunch of little things go wrong, but we just tried to keep it straight, do our jobs, and hope for the best. It's always nervous, it's always hard - but this was the hardest for sure."

Keeping calm and soldiering on is one of George's great strengths, and this year was no exception. While everyone was doubting and worrying, George was keeping the faith. "We knew Lance was still Lance, he'd just had some bad days,” says George. "People were all saying, 'he's not the same, he's not the same,' but we knew he was, because we'd been training with him before and seen him in all the races he'd done. Lance just had some problems; he had to get over them, and once he did, we knew he'd be back to the same old Lance."

The turning point in the tour came on the climb to Luz-Ardiden, where a crash, caused when Armstrong caught a spectator's souvenir musette with his handlebars, halted and then fueled what would be the decisive attack on the final uphill finish in the tour. It was do or die that day, and Lance did. After that, "everyone felt better, definitely," says George, "that was the best day. It's probably one of the best Tour de France days I've ever been a part of. The whole way up the mountain, I was listening to Johan saying that Ullrich was getting dropped. We were gaining time, and just knowing that Lance was back to his normal self... I didn't even know about the crash until after the race."

George himself had a particularly strong performance, and in addition to his customary role as Armstrong's watchdog in the peloton and his duties as policeman to the breakaway candidates at the start of the flat stages, it has also become routine to see George leading the peloton over the climbs and hanging in to pull for Postal often until the foot of the final ascents on the toughest days. On top of that, his performance in this tour was highlighted by especially strong time-trialing, culminating in a brilliant 7th place finish in the final ITT on the penultimate stage, only 1'08" off David Millar's winning pace.


George climbs!


...and Time Trials!

Photos Courtesy of The US Postal Service,
presented by Berry Floor

Heading into the fall relatively fresh after an entire spring off the bike, George is excited about his season, very motivated, and still testing the limits of his form. "In the first time trial, I didn't go very hard on; I only went about 70%," says George, "I wanted to conserve energy, and I went as hard as I'd go in any time trial... I mean, you can't go easy... but not really hard, and I was 23rd, only a minute out of the top 10; so I decided to go a little harder in the second one just to see what I could do."

The performance was his best ever, but he had a feeling it might be there. "I knew I was strong," he says, "I felt it in the Team Time Trial."

George's strong performances have led some to say that they'd like to see him leave the US Postal Service, where they see him as a kind of indentured servant to Lance Armstrong's Tour de France effort, and ride for Classics team, but George has no plans to fly the coop: "I race for the best team in the world right now," he says. "I can't understand why people would want me to leave the best team in the world, with the best coaches, the best director, the best staff in the world. The experience I gain on this team is really just priceless, and I work for the team one month out of the year in July. I know more people watch the Tour de France than anything else, and maybe that's all they see, but there are a lot of other races that we do in a year."


George hanging out with the best team in the world
Photo courtesy of George Hincapie's Blog
Click for larger image

Now, with the Tour de France won, George heads into the fall season energized and ready for a big late season of World Cup races and the Vuelta before heading back to North America for the World Championsips in Hamilton. It's a heavy schedule, but one George's enforced early season break has left him eager to take on. “It's true that it's a lot, and I've never done two big tours in one year, but we'll see. Being sick really made me miss the races and being able to perform at the top level," says George. "My doctor and Johan [Bruyneel] said that I had never really known what it was like to be sick, and they were right. In the past I've been injured or sick, but never like that.

The time off has left him with new motivation, and a real hunger for the races. "In this year's tour, I would wake up excited to race and not worried about the constant attacks. Instead of 'oh boy, this is going to be a hard day, I hope I can do my job,' this year, my outlook was like, 'Bring it.' "

Hincapie Sportswear

Meanwhile, putting the Hincapie family work ethic, their love for the sport of cycling, and a name that has become synonymous with determined performances under the toughest circumstances to work, George and Rich joined forces to launch Hincapie Sportswear last year; a new cycling apparel company that will supply teams and clubs with customized kits, and retail customers with high-quality technical clothing. They hope their apparel line will exemplify the quality, performance and sense of style that we have all come to associate with America's premiere classics man.

Anyone who has seen George Hincapie's fancy Italian sandals knows that his years on the continent have given him that certain je ne sais quoi, but why cycling apparel? Says Rich: "I think clothing is both technical and not technical at the same time, and that combination of making clothes that really work on a technical level, and at the same time look great, has always appealed to us. When we were younger we were always excited about seeing the new team kits in the magazines, and when George went pro, we used to always talk about what clothing he got, and how he liked it."

"Neither one of us is very technical about our bikes," adds Rich, "I bet George can't even change his bar tape (George confirms: "I'm sure I could figure it out, but it's been a long time"), but for some reason, technical clothing has always been a lot more interesting."

A master plan that has been brewing in the back of Rich's mind for about 10 years, Hincapie Sportswear came together once and for all when he met Italian designer Roberto di Giovine. A former professional racer from Italy, Roby came to the US to ride in the Michelin Cycling Classic. A design artist with a degree from the University of Verona, he worked as a photojournalist and layout editor before joining the professional peloton in Italy, doing stints with Amore e Vita, De Nardi, and CCC-Mat for two years.

In 2001, Roby had an especially hard season, and was besieged by illness. "My season was over early," says Roby, "and for a rider like me, very untalented, one season out means everybody forgets you." With his racing career on the ropes, Roby looked to the American criterium circuit for salvation. "I love fast, flat races. Criterium and American racing represented the American Dream for me." Looking to pursue that dream, Roby contacted Rich about participating in the Michelin Classic in 2001, and took "the first step to my new life opportunity."

As a cyclist, Roby worked hard: "I did my best. I worked for my captains, I pulled, I brought food and water to my teammates, I learned the job," but his art education did not go to waste. At the same time he was riding, he was bringing his love of design together with his passion for cycling, and between 1997 and 2002, he designed more than 300 team uniforms, supervising every aspect of production from design, to delivery, including the Amore e Vita kits in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

When Roby arrived in Greenville for the Michelin Classic, he met Rich, and though Roby spoke little English, and Rich's Italian left something to be desired, they bridged the communication barrier with their mutual sense of excitement about the venture that became Hincapie Sportswear. Since then, Roby has relocated to Greenville, and works closely with Rich and George to bring that plan to fruition, and while George is away, tearing it up on the roads in Europe, back in Greenville, Rich is hard at work building the family business, which he took up fulltime on January 1st this year.

"I worked in the computer industry as a sales rep for around 6 years," says Rich, "and although things were going well there, I decided to take the jump and really put 100% effort into Hincapie Sportswear, which has been growing by the day. I told myself that if I ever came home one day and had a bunch of voicemails and e-mails that I couldn't return, I'm going to do this full time. That day came, and I haven't looked back. Sometimes in life you have to take a chance."

Rich has spent the better part of the past couple of years doing extensive research into the materials and fabrics to create a line of clothing that sits right on the cutting edge. "We've gathered only the top of the line fabrics to use in our clothing, from the best 210 gram Dupont Lycra, to jacket fabrics like Wind Tex, which is not often used in the states for cycling clothing because of the cost," says Rich. "Our line will only use technologically advanced materials which will continue to evolve as technology advances," says Rich. "Our mission is to outfit North Americans with the most comfortable and functional gear using top of the line fabrics, along with George's European sense of style."

George knows very well that having the right clothes can make the difference between winning and losing, and he brings his experience of long hours in the saddle and exposure to the elements to bear to help the company develop clothing that will perform at the highest level. George knows what works and what doesn't, and his experience of showing up big in every situation, from the freezing Belgian rain, to the tar-boiling crucible of the Spanish Pyrenees, will inform the design and functionality of every piece in the Hincapie Sportswear line. "My role is to advise in coming up with products we like, and that I know work." He says, "The right clothing is really important when you have to ride 6 hours a day in all kinds of weather. That experience is where I come in."

With Rich handling the business end of things, Roby doing the design work, and George acting as a technical and product development advisor, the final piece of the puzzle was bringing Marketing Director Steve Baker on board. Steve worked for a local Greenville PR firm, and knows the bike industry backwards and forwards through years of experience as the man responsible for marketing and distribution of all of Michelin's U.S. bike business. Steve brings extensive experience with brand management and a thoroughgoing understanding of the retail environment to the table, "and he races too," says Rich, "so we have a great team here!"

Steve is a "perennial Cat 3" racer for the local Les Amis cycling team, and he and Rich have trained together for years, riding along, bouncing ideas off each other. He's excited about the road ahead, and happy to be on it with his new colleagues: "Rich is just a great person to work with. He has a great attitude and work ethic." He says. "It makes it easy to work hard, and it's really a dream to be able to combine my personal passion with making a living."

Hincapie Sportswear is online now to take orders from teams and clubs, and aside from certain accessories and feature items on the web site, longtime Hincapie supporter, Sinclair Imports, based in Reno Nevada, will distribute the Hincapie line in the retail market. "Sinclair Partner and Marketing Director Lance Donnell has been a friend of the family for years," and, says Rich, "it was just a natural fit to have him help us introduce the line into retail."

"The retail line will really give us the freedom to express our style," says Rich. "We're looking forward to taking cycling apparel to the next level. With our focus on quality, performance, competitive pricing, and Roby and George bringing their European style to the table, we think we will have a combination that really sets us apart."

Hincapie Sportswear will give the brothers a chance to work in the cycling industry for years, and George looks to it as a good way to continue to be involved with the sport after he retires from active duty. "I love this sport. I'm excited about it, and still have the love for it I had when I was a child. I am hoping that with this company, I will be able to work in the cycling industry for many years."

"I didn't want to look back some day and regret anything," says Rich, "so here I sit in my office in downtown Greenville with the tour on TV and happier than ever. Sure, starting a new company is hard work and pretty scary at times but for me it's all fun, and we've had a phenomenal first year," he adds.

"We couldn't be happier with the amount of business we've secured. In our very first season we've made custom apparel for over 5 times as many teams as we had planned, and we currently have a plan in place to double our business again next year. When you consider the incredible growth we are forecasting in the bicycle retail and online channels, we expect to be a major player in the industry in only our second year in business. Our ultimate goal is to be the number one cycling apparel company in the US."

"It's hard work," says Steve, "but we play hard, too. We all have a real passion for this sport, and I think that comes through in everything we're doing. The future is bright for Hincapie Sportswear!”

More Hincapie Heaven:
George's Website
George's (very charming) Blog
Hincapie Sportswear

 
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Tour de France News, Beloki
Team Hincapie: It's a Family Affair

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