Photos by Jaime Nichols
George Hincapie, US Postal Service, presented by Berry Floor
Asked to recollect his victory, and talk about what he thinks will be different this year: "Well, hopefully nothing! I hope I win again! It was very exciting for me, and for the team as well. It was the first time, ever, that the race happened, and a great day for the team, and for me, personally. It's really amazing to see how many people come out to see the race, and if you talk to the Europeans about what they think about it, they come over and they come over to the states thinking that cycling's not a very big sport here in the US, and then they see the race here in San Francisco, and they're pretty blown away by it."
Comparing this race to races in Europe: "We don't do many circuit races in Europe, but in terms of the course, it's pretty comparable to a World Championship, or an Olympic-type race, except for the distance, which is a bit shorter - it's 180km instead of 240 or so. The crowds in 2001, 2002 were really amazing, on a par with a lot of the top European events, and unfortunately I wasn't able to be here last year, but I hear the crowds were amazing."
Asked if he believes the US Circuit can support more races of this caliber: "Yes, I don't see why there couldn't be a race like the T-Mobile International, presented by BMC Software in every big city in the US. I think now is the time to really display our sport. I think with Lance's success now in the Tour de France, that the interest in cycling is bigger than ever, and I don't see why it wouldn't be happening in several big cities across the nation now."
On how his form is after his long season, and how he prepares for this race: "After the tour I was pretty dead, and tried to keep focus for the Olympics as much as possible, but on the day in Athens, I just didn't have the legs, and I wasn't able to really do any attacks, all I could do was follow wheels. Since then, I've been feeling a bit better, and hopefully I'll be able to have great legs at the T-Mobile International; but you really need great legs to ride a race like that - there's no hiding, it's so hard and the competition is good, so you really have to be on a great day. As far as training goes, I haven't been doing so much structured training as I do in the spring, and before the tour. I think my body just can't handle that right now, so at this point, I'm just going out and putting in as many miles as I can. I just got back from Europe two days ago, too, so right now I'm jet-lagged, but I hope to get in a couple of longer rides this week."
On who Postal will look to for a big delivery on Sunday:I know that Chechu Rubiera is riding really well, and I'm not really even sure of who's going to be there right now, but I'm sure Chechu will be going really well, and I hope to do a good job out there. I was really tired after the tour, but hopefully I'll be able to have a good performance on Sunday."
Chris Horner, Webcor Builders
Asked who he will be keeping his eye on in the American field: "There's going to be a good field. Levi's gonna be there, Bobby's there, and of course, George is going to be flying, and like George is talking about, there's going to be at least two or three other Postal riders who are gonna be going good. I'm sure Ekimov will be going good, and he's like the most professional rider int he whole of the world, I guess, because the guy is just, always on form, so you definitely have to keep an eye out for Ekimov. Bobby, I'm sure, will be motivated, so, between those guys, and I'm not sure about the European contingent that's gonna be showing up, since I haven't seen the roster on that, so I can't comment on those guys, but those guys will be the main threats: Levi, Bobby, George, and at least two or three other Postal riders."
Asked which teams he will look for during the race: "You're gonna see a big effort from Colavita-Bolla and a big effort from Health Net, but their tactics won't be anything that can be a favor for me at all. They've pretty much implied, or at least Health Net has pretty much implied that they will do what it takes to make sure that we don't have Horner with us... but that's ok, because we have other riders, too. For me, I think it's gonna be more, the Postal Service, and I know Saunier Duval will be there, but those will be who I look to when it's time to get some help, and do some work, I'm sure."
Asked to rate his 2004 season: "Oh, I think it's been a great season, both for the team, and for myself. I mean, you've seen riders like Justin England winning NRC races, and James Mattis winning NRC races, and of course Charles has always been winning NRC races and continues to do so, and I think I have something like 13 NRC wins this year, and I have the NRC race about wrapped up, mathematically - if it's not already done, it's close to being done. So, when you look at what we're working with with Webcor, it's been a fantastic year, and a great season. I mean, I don't think people expected the season to go as well as it has, and I know I never expected it to go this well. I believe our sponsor, Andy Ball, from Webcor is ecstatic about how the year has gone, and wants to continue running the team for next year."
On the changes to the course this year: "I think for me that it will just make it better. Now, if I understand right, they've gotten rid of a little bit of the flatter stuff, and added a little more on the climbs which will just make it a harder race. It should benefit all the top riders, and I think it'll be great for me. It'll just make it harder. You're gonna hit the hills sooner in each lap, and you're gonna hit it one more time total, during the race, so it's gonna make a difference."
Asked to comment on his form and confidence for this race: "The form's coming good. It's on a par."
Charles Dionne, Webcor Builders
On his Webcor Builders team this year: " I think the Webcor Builders team looks pretty good. I was surprised many times by the guys we had on the team, most of whom we had never heard of, but they have shown many times during the year that they can do the job, so hopefully they are getting ready for the race. San Fran is the base of our sponsor, Webcor Builders, so it's important for that. It's the biggest one day race in the United States, and it's also just a couple of weeks before the world championships, so all in all, I think the team is getting ready to have a good performance there. I think it's gonna happen."
Asked to compare his form this time around to his form in 2002 when he won in San Francisco: "I'd say similar, if not better, because I've been training back in Quebec, and that's the best place to train because it's similar to San Fran, so I can actually train on roads, and also, like I said the World Championships is three weeks after the T-Mobile, so I think the form is there, and we'll see how the team wants to play it, but I should be there on the 12th, yeah. It just depends how the team wants to play it. Hopefully we're gonna play it right, and one Webcor's gonna win it."
Freddie Rodriguez, Acqua y Sapone
On how he likes his chances on Sunday: "I'm hoping to have a good race. It's a hard course, but if it's hard for me, it's going to be hard for everybody. I'm coming off some good racing in Italy, and I've been doing a lot of hanging tough. All those races are made for climbers like Cunego and Simoni, so I'm getting back to the form I had at the Giro, so, like I always do, I'll rise to the occasion. Sunday is important for me."
Asked about his strategy, and to comment on whether the course changes will make the race tougher: "It's tough! It won't be that much harder. If I'm gonna be good, I'm gonna be good to go one more lap. Like always, I'll be playing off everybody else, seeing what everybody else wants to do. I'll play my cards at the end of the race, like always. I'm a sprinter, so hopefully I can be there. Everyone else's job is to try to get rid of me."
Asked what it's like to ride as the National Champion and wear the stars and stripes: "It's great. The last time I came here it was the first year, and I was also National Champion, and I haven't been able to be there since. I like to make a big show out of it, you know, with my hat, my shoes, my socks, my shorts, my helmet, my sunglasses. I'm going with all that."
Promoter Threshold Sports CEO David Chauner
Responding to George Hincapie's observation that every big city in America needs a race like the T-Mobile International, presented by BMC Software: "I think George certainly had an appropriate observation, that cycling is definitely on the radar screen more than it ever has been before for cities and sponsors. The problem we have as promoters of cycling events is that we've always got to find sponsors to pony up a pretty significant amount of money to host these events, and although I think the numbers bear it out, and the TV ratings are strong and so on, we're still not as recognized as golf or NASCAR, or some of the other big events that garner higher sponsorship dollars, but I think that's beginning to change, and I think we're getting more sophisticated all the time in terms of how we present the value and return on investment to sponsors, So, we're definitely looking to expand into other cities, We've been talking to people in Chicago and Boston, Phoenix and other places, and nothing's ready to be announced, but there's certainly a lot of interest there, and it's really just the initial commitment of sponsors as to whether we can really launch a high-quality race like the T-Mobile, or like the Wachovia race series, for example."
On the support for this race from the city government and communities: "Dan Osipow was instrumental in getting the city, and the neighborhoods around the city to support the race for the challenging course that we picked, but it really started with Mayor Willie Brown's administration where he was really supportive of the event from the beginning, and now the new mayor Kevin Newsome, is even more behind the event. We're expecting him to turn out, and be involved in the press conference, and he's becoming more and more educated about the event, even though he's watched it and talked to businesses around the course, so he's really behind it. I think the support and enthusiasm that we're getting from the city is really phenomenal, and they're seeing how important an event this is to the local economy, and what it does for the tax revenues and so forth."
On the biggest challenges he faces in finding sponsorship for PCT-scale cycling events: "Well, I think it's - the real factor that we run across in getting NASCAR-type sponsorship is really just familiarity and awareness of the sport. The awareness is there, but the understanding of the sport as a marketing or sponsorship vehicle is just not quite there yet. The companies that are most likely to sponsor these events are visionary companies, companies who can see beyond what exists today. It's a safe bet to sponsor a golf tournament, or a NASCAR race because those sports are so much more well-established and so much more in the mainstream, and cycling hasn't yet reached that point. I mean, our goal, of course, as you probably know, is to build our Pro Cycling Tour into a NASCAR series or a PGA-type series, eventually, but it's not there yet, and the heavy lifting is being done by the new sponsors. The new sponsors are the ones who really are taking a risk because it's less proven than these more well-established sports.
As I mentioned earlier, we're constantly being asked for a return on investment, and we've done some sponsorship analysis for the first time, where we're getting quantifiable information on the event, and we're able to show that our event, and the total media value of the television time, and the banners, and all the signage on the course, and all those kinds of things things that you can measure are now favorably compared to a similar golf tournament, or some other type of even that in many cases can command a lot more [in sponsorship dollars].
A Senior PGA Tour event that's held on a private country club in a suburban area can command a $4 million title sponsorship, while we can do an event that basically paralyzes a major metropolitan area, gets much better TV ratings locally, and draws a much, much bigger crowd, although, granted, a much less targeted crowd, for a fourth of that cost. So, we're starting to tell that story, and companies are beginning to hear that, and we're getting better audiences, and in the next couple of years, I think we're going to have some real breakthroughs with some much bigger sponsors.