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George Hincapie Crowned US Pro 2006
 
By Cathy Mehl
Date: 9/3/2006
George Hincapie Crowned US Pro 2006
 

A new location and a new race format awaited 102 riders who took to the roads in Greenville, SC in the first all-American competition to wear the prestigious Stars and Stripes jersey. Riding in warm temperatures hovering around the mid-eighties with 60% humidity, it was a sticky day in the south. The gun went off at 12:30PM and the riders were off through the city streets and neighborhoods of Greenville as they headed for the climb of the race, Paris Mountain. With the climb located in the middle of each lap and five times up and over the big requirement of the day, it didn't take long for the initial selections to be made.

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), riding without teammates, lead the charge on the second lap up Paris Mountain, trying to shovel as many riders as possible off the back of the peloton. By the top of Paris Mountain on the third lap, a group of seventeen was off the front. Forcing a high pace, Leipheimer and George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) took control of the race, as members of Toyota-United, Jelly Belly, Navigators and TIAA-CREF also made this elite group. The winner from the race looked to come from this group.

With a gap of over five minutes developed and holding by the fifth trip up Paris Mountain, a final selection of nine riders were the only ones holding on for that final trip over the climb. This group included the reigning champion Chris Wherry, who was looking to repeat. Also riding in this group were Leipheimer, Hincapie, Phil Zajicek (Navigators), Blake Caldwell (TIAA-CREF), Andrew Bajadali (Jelly Belly), Danny Pate (TIAA-CREF), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Kodakgallery) and Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators). By this stage of the race, the entire peloton consisted of thirty-two riders in total, an amazing testament to the difficulty of this course.

On the final push up Paris Mountain, 1 km from the top Hincapie made the decisive move. The hometown favorite was riding in his own backyard and knew the time was right. As he went up the road, only Leipheimer and Bajadali were finally able to respond. As the threesome rode toward the finish line to start the final finishing circuits, Hincapie and Leipheimer attempted to shed the Jelly Belly rider, but he was able to respond to every move. However, once the three finishing circuits began, and Bajadali began to fade, it became clear he would not be able to contest a final sprint against the Pro Tour riders.

A partisan crowd lifted Hincapie's drive and determination as he attacked Leipheimer with 1 km to go. With a roaring crowd screaming his name, Hincapie rolled across the line in first place as the new US Pro champion. Leipheimer finished second at 16 seconds back, with Danny Pate completing the podium for this year's race.

"It was definitely a race of attrition," Hincapie said. "I hoped that everybody went hard up the hill every time. I knew that it was going to be really hard and I was really dead at the end, but I knew that if I'm dead everybody else has got to be even more dead. The crowd was amazing. It was just really special. I got up on the podium and I got really emotional. You know, I've been in this sport for 13 years now as a professional and I can count moments like this on one or two fingers. This is definitely a highlight. I'm super happy that I won, and thanks to Greenville."


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