Lookin' good in Liege
Photo by Anita Van Crey
This year, George Hincapie starts his 9th Tour de France. Truly the Cadillac of domestiques, and an experienced and steady lynchpin of the US Postal tour team, Hincapie is the only postman to have escorted Lance Armstrong into Paris for all five of his Tour de France victories.
Yesterday, he rode to a very strong 10th place finish in the prologue, ahead of guys like Tyler Hamilton and Jan Ullrich, but most importantly, he hammered it in there in front of his roommate, Old Man Ekimov...
Good ride today, George! Were you happy with it?
Yeah, I was. It was a good ride. It was a hard course, but it wasn't too technical, so I just went flat out.
What was your duty out there today? Did you get back and debrief the boss?
Oh yeah, we always do that, though. Everybody was just supposed to go as hard as we could.
Do you think the drizzle started to effect the course towards the end? Did it rain?
No. It wasn't raining. It was just a couple of drops for just a second while Chechu was going, but Johan said it was nothing, so...
So, it probably didn't effect the times of the guys who went later?
No, I don't think so.
In that case, it's pretty awesome that you were faster than the likes of Tyler and Jan! You're getting stronger all the time in the time trials, aren't you?
Yeah, it was good. Plus, I got a new bike today, which I was really happy about.
What's it like?
Well, everyone has carbons, but for awhile, I wasn't too comfortable on the carbons, so they gave me the aluminum; but Trek assured me that the carbon was faster and we actually took the postion up to where I felt comfortable, and it felt really good, so it was really nice to have a brand new bike.
Cool! So, how are you feeling, heading into the tour? Are you good? Ready for three weeks of hard labor?
Yeah, I'm feeling good. I trained really hard, and you know, we've been sitting around all week, waiting for the tour to start, so it was tough to know where I was at, but I trained really hard for 10 days after the Dauphine with Lance, Floyd and Eki, and just went super hard. We did about 34 hours in 7 days, and lots of climbing. I thought it was maybe a bit too much for me, but this week I was able to rest, and hopefully I'll be good for the next three weeks.
Is it hard to just sit around and wait the week before the tour starts?
Yeah, it is!
How's the pressure this year, are you feeling it?
Well, the Tour's always a lot of pressure, but this year's really no different than any other year.
It seems like, with all the rumors floating around in these past weeks, that it might be a little more stressful for you guys. Does it get to you?
No, but it's really unfortunate. I mean, it's people that we worked with, and for them to just come out of the blue and say things like what they're saying... it's crazy. I mean, it's people that you know, or that you thought you knew... it's just funny. It's like, if I were to say "Jaime, you're a bad person, and I've seen you do bad things," and then someone wrote that down, and everyone read it, and said, "yeah, maybe Jaime is a bad person, and she's done this and that bad thing, just because George said so."
It's just not something that we're used to, being from the states, I guess. I mean, you can't do that! First of all, it's not legal in the states, you can't just flat out say things like that without proof, which is what they've done. It's damaging, though, in that it just creates more stress for the team.
It's always this long shadow, and I just don't know how everyone can get out from under that.
Yeah, it's true. It's a shadow that's hanging over cycling, and has been for a long time, and it's stressful, too. Now, there's the rumor that there are going to be raids in the Tour de France, and some of us really worry, because we have vitamins and things like that in our suitcases - just normal vitamin C, and things like it that are from America, and are labeled in English, and the French police can come and say, "What's this? I don't understand what this is..." You know what I mean? It's to the point where you're afraid to carry vitamin C in your suitcase!
Geez! So, tell me how you prepared this year. Did you shoot to be at 100% at the start of the tour, or are you aiming for some point in the race to be on top form?
The first ten days are going to be very stressful, and very hard. For the first 10 days, the course is tough, and the weather's kind of dodgy right now, too; rainy and windy. I needed to be strong from the beginning, so you just have to try to hold onto good form as much as you can. For me, I started off probably a bit slower, because I did the Tour de Georgia, and I was really tired in the race, so it was kind of unfortunate to race like that, but after that, I took a good, big rest. Then I started training, and I trained well, but didn't do too much intensity, so I got to the Dauphine probably a little undertrained, but I think that was better, actually. I did a pretty good Dauphine, and then did a really hard training camp with Lance, Eki and Floyd. I think it's probably better for me to ride some of those races not at my best, so then I can come to the tour, I try to hold onto some good form for three weeks.
What do you expect you role will be? I know you'll be riding hard on the flats, but will we see you in the climbs, too?
Well, definitely the first 10 days, the team time trial, and the cobble stones... but once you get a week or 10 days into the race, everybody starts getting really tired, and the climbers can have bad days, or the climbers can have super days, so you just have to be ready for anything. It depends on how I'm feeling, and what happens, but I have to be ready to do some work at the beginning of the mountain stages, and even on some of the medium climbs.
How's the team, is everyone feeling strong? Lance looked great today...
Yeah, the team is good, and Lance was amazing. At training camp, he was just killing us. I rode really well at training camp, but I just had to try to hold his wheel for most of the intervals we did. It was interesting, though, because we didn't do any specific training for a prologue, so I wasn't expecting a good result, and to be honest, I wasn't sure how Lance would do, because all we did was ride like, 7 hours in the mountains, and do long, hour and a half climbs; just a lot of endurance stuff. Hard stuff, but no short, all-out efforts. So this ride today was a really good indication.
It almost seemed like Lance slowed up on the finishing straight. Do you think he didn't really shoot for the win today? Phil and Paul were declaring him the winner, and it seemed like he was right there, but...
Oh no, that's just the camera. The first time I saw that angle, I said the same thing, but when you see that camera angle on the finishing straight, there's still 500 meters to go. He definitely went all out.
Well, I'm glad Cancellara won, he was really so happy.
Yeah, that was really cool.
Tell me your thoughts about the course this year, is it tough? You've got all the mountains in the end!
Yeah, it'll be hard. Last year we had some really hard mountains at the end, but there are probably more this year, and it's going to be interesting in the last week, for sure. I think a lot could still be up in the air in the last week. Not last year, but in the past it's been kind of settled already by the last week, so it makes for an exciting tour, I think.
So, what about this stage that covers part of the Paris-Roubaix course? Are you going to be bringing your expertise to bear on that?
Yeah, definitely. If I feel good, then I definitely need to be with Lance at the front. I think that's going to be a pretty hectic day, especially since they're calling for rain!
Yeah. It's gonna be pretty wild, so we're going to have to have the old man, Ekimov up there, and myself...
Ekimov is amazing! How does he do it?
Yeah! He's my roommate, and we're just doing great. He's never tired, always goin'.
You should tell him that he's everyone's hero at my house.
He's my hero, too, but I beat him today, so I'm kind of happy about that!
Wow! That IS impressive!
That's all I wanted to do today! I said "Johan, just give me Ekimov's time!"
Nice! So, the other thing I wanted to ask you about is the team time trial. I know Postal doesn't like to leave anyone behind - tell me about that stage, is that a tough one?
No, we prefer not to lose anyone. That stage is brutal. But, this year it's kind of a bullshit stage with all the new rules they have. It's really a hard stage, though. It's stressful, and you require special equipment, special training... it's one of the only days of the year when I get really nervous.
And is there a lot of pain involved?
Oh yeah. It's an all-out effort.
Do you think that the same things that make someone good in the individual time trial carry over to the team time trial, or are there other factors that make someone good there?
Well, there are differences. Someone can be a not very good time trialist, and still be really strong in a team time trial. It's different, because you get to recover a little bit between efforts. You go to the front for 20 seconds, and then you get to go back and recover, so it's kind of a matter of how good you are on your bike, your position, and how much energy you can save when you're on the wheel. If you get a good, cohesive unit, that does everything right, the stronger guys take longer pulls...
And that would be you, right?
Typically, yeah.... and the weaker guys take shorter pulls, but everyone takes their pulls, and at the same time, everyone keeps their same order - that's really important.
Right. So, George, is your family there with you?
My fiance is in France, my parents are coming over on Monday to my apartment in Girona, and my brother is coming out in a couple of weeks...
How is Melanie, is everything good with the baby?
Yeah, it's great! I'm really excited. We won the Team GC today, so we get our first Credit Lyonnaise lions tomorrow, and I'm going to put mine aside for my baby.
That is awesome! You take care of yourself out there have a safe ride. I don't want to see anyone get hurt!
Yeah, me either. It was really tough seeing Whitey get hurt today. He's a great friend. That's really hard.
That was awful. So, you be careful, and good luck!