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Catching up with George Hincapie
 
By Jaime Nichols
Date: 4/19/2004
Catching up with George Hincapie
 

It's been said that losing gracefully is commended, but never chosen, and I suppose that's right. This year was George Hincapie's 9th effort at Paris-Roubaix, and his 5th top ten finish in the race he sets his heart on winning one day. Despite the fact that victory has eluded him thus far, George returns to the cobbles every Spring with 100% commitment, leaving everything on the road, and this year was no exception.

2004's Paris-Roubaix is in the history books, and it was another tantalizingly close ride for US Postal's Classics man. This time, after bad luck took down Landis, Pena and Van Heeswijk, and though Cruz, Joachim and Van Heeswijk made valiant efforts to catch back on, George found himself, without teammates and about 100K to go.

Hincapie, as usual, was never out of the action. A permanent fixture at the sharp end of the race, he made a very confident move with about 20K to go, following Belgian wunderkind Tom Boonen and a rare Northern Classics loving Spaniard, Juan Antonio Flecha. Once they shook free, George drove it with everything he had, and along with two strong companions, gained a good gap, until Lotto's Leif Hoste hammered to bridge up, with the rest of the favorites following not far behind. 20/20 hindsight reveals that the move was just a little too early, but it's an oft-repeated refrain that you've got to risk losing to win, and it looked for all the world like just the sort of move that could go all the way. George took that risk, and drove it for all he was worth, though it would prove to be his undoing.

hincapielead_large.jpg
Hincapie leads the break
Photo by Graham Watson, and courtesy
www.usps-berryfloor.com

After they were caught, Hincapie never quite recovered; his strength and morale sapped by the all-out effort. Right after the race, he told OLN commentator and former teammate Frankie Andreu that he hadn't had a great day, and in the end "just rode in" for 8th. Let's review that, race fans, because I want to emphasize the fact that George "just rode in" for 8th place in the hardest single day race of the year.

Another disappointment, albeit one that would be a dream result for most of the professional peloton, is no consolation when you're riding to win, but that's bike racing, and tomorrow is another day - even if you sleep through most of it. That's true especially this year, because directly after the race, George headed off to Paris on a special errand, and he's got some big, awesome news!

So, without further ado...

The day after Paris Roubaix saw the usual yearly chorus that follows your ride there, decrying the fact your team doesn't support you well enough for the Classics. What's your response to that?

We just had bad luck as a team that day. Max crashed, and then a couple of guys waited for him, and it was unfortunate that there was nobody there in the end, but it was just bad luck, because it's a good team.

What about next season? I know that the Postal sponsorship is still in question - what do you see happening? Do you think you'll be looking for a new team?

I just don't know yet. I mean, I know the contract expires, but I don't know what's going to happen. It will depend on what the options are, and what's available.

What would you like to see happen?

Well, I'm happy with my team. It's been a great experience so far. It would be sad for cycling if this team was gone, whether it's the Postal Service or some other sponsor; if the whole franchise was gone, that would be a bad thing. Given that, I know there are still a lot of other good teams, too, and I guess if there was a really good opportunity, I might go someplace else. But, at the same time, I've never really known anyplace else, I've always been on the same team, so it would be hard to leave.

So, if it stayed together in some form, you'd prefer to stay with it?

Probably, yeah; I would.

There are a lot of factors involved in winning a race like Paris-Roubaix...

Yeah, and it was bad that there were no teammates there with 100K left - bad luck - but you know, everybody just makes a decision based on what they see on Outdoor Life television now, and it seems like there are a lot of people out there who are experts on cycling, but they don't see everything. They don't see behind the scenes of what goes on on the team.

This is the best team in the world, it's an American team, and we have the best riders in the world, the best equipment, and the best staff. We've got a lot of good things. I know there are other teams that are like that, and I'm not saying that I would never leave, but what I am saying that it is a good team, and it would be hard to leave.

But, you know, I am leaving my options open.

I have to say, George, that something that amazes me about you is how you just keep coming back to those races, and even though you haven't won yet, you ride with that same conviction every time, despite that. What keeps you coming back to it in that way?

It's just such an epic race. It's almost like war on a bicycle, and I just really dream about winning it. I tried hard this year, and next year, I'll keep trying.

I've gotten better results in Roubaix than I did this year, but I think this year I took a big gamble when I went with that break. We were away for 5 or 10K or something, and it was good. I feel like I made a risky move, and I wanted to try to give it all there. It was a move that I thought could make it to the finish, so I went for it.

In the years before, I've done better at the finish, but I've just followed the leaders and the favorites in, and didn't make any big moves like that, so this year, even though I was upset with the final result, I felt like I rode aggressively in both the World Cups and that was good.

You feel like you've improved your game a bit?

Yeah. I do.

So, you've told me before that after Paris-Roubaix, generally, you just take about 10 days off and rest, but not so this year, I guess?

No, I've got to do Tour de Georgia!

So you're still working hard? How are you holding up?

Oh, I've been dead tired all week!

Tell me how you feel when you wake up in the morning after riding Paris-Roubaix?

Oh you're just dead. Dead, dead, dead tired... But, this year, I actually went to Paris that night after Roubaix, and actually proposed to my girlfriend.

Really? That's awesome! I hope she said yes!

Yeah, she did say yes.

And is it true, all this I hear about your becoming a father in November?

Yes, it's true!

That's wonderful!

Thanks! Yeah, so after that night, we went to her family's house in Dijon, and went out for coffee and breakfast with her family, but I was exhausted, and after breakfast, I just had to go to sleep. I was so tired that I couldn't even function, so I took a nap, and woke up in time to meet her family again for lunch, but after that we walked around for about 20 minutes, and after 20 minutes I couldn't even walk! I had to go back to bed! So, I slept for another hour and a half and then got up to go have dinner, stayed up long enough to eat, and then just went back to sleep.

I was just trashed the whole day.

Geez! That was the very day after?

Yeah. That was Monday. We had all kinds of plans to go wine tasting and visit the vineyards and stuff, and I just couldn't go... they understood though. It was pretty funny.

After Paris-Roubaix, you feel like you do after a normal world cup, but then, after that, you went to do a really hard work-out in the gym with heavy weights. Add that onto a World Cup, and that's how you feel. Your body is just trashed.

Then, I flew back here, on Tuesday, and there's the jet lag to deal with... and you know, it's not just Paris-Roubaix - it's that whole two weeks of the season that's just mentally stressful, and physically as well. It just takes a lot out of you.

Yeah, I'd think there would be an emotional exhaustion to it all, as well.

Yeah, there is. For those races, it's not like you can just sit in and talk, and then just go for it in the end. Any race you do there you've always got to be fully concentrated and make sure you stay in the right position, worrying about the wind, what hill's coming up next, or what cobbled section. There's just so much going on in every race that three or four races like that are almost as exhausting as the Tour de France. You almost feel the same way at the end.

So, with all that - it's off to Georgia?

Yep.

Without compromising anything top secret, can you tell us what Postal's intentions are for Georgia? What do you think your role will be?

I don't really know what my role will be. It depends on how I recover from last week. I mean, I've felt tired, but hopefully, once we start racing, I'll feel better.

I know that Lance wants to get in some good training for the Tour, and that's pretty much the main goal. I don't know what the competition's going to be like, since we haven't raced in America in a long time.

But, you know, it's just going to be really nice to race so close to home, and be able to just jump in the car on the last day and drive home. I'm looking forward to it. I'm sure I'll see a lot of my friends, and people I train with here, so it'll be fun.

Will you be here in the states for awhile? When do you return to Europe?

I'll go back for the Tour of Belgium in May.

No US PRO this year?

No, I don't think so.

Do you think you'll ride your brother's Crit series right after Georgia?

No, I think I'm just going to sit on the couch for a week! I need to take a break for at least a week. After that I have to start training for the tour - so I want to get some rest.

A lot of the Daily Peloton readers have been wondering why you didn't stay in Europe to contest more of the World Cups...

Well, I was really just tired, and those races are different from what I've really trained for. I've done them before, and I'm sure I could have done pretty well, but I think it was time to go home. I thought about it. I considered staying to do Amstel, but the original program was for me to come back after Roubaix, and the next three months are going to be pretty tough, too, so I don't want to kill myself right now, either.

Right. It's going to be a big Tour this year - are you looking forward to it?

Oh yeah, of course!

Excellent. Thank you, George. Good luck, and congratulations again!

Thank you!

 
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