Talkingshop: Big George – the legendary Mr Hincapie

Paul Burgoine talks to a legend in the peloton, George Hincapie who races for the BMC dream team …

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Apart from the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix is probably the race most non cycling fans have heard something about, possibly by its nickname ‘The Hell of the North’ and that title could not be described with anymore accuracy. The race meanders its way across French Flanders in Northern France, from its start in Compiègne to its finish 258km away in Roubaix’s legendary velodrome crossing farm tracks and over 21 brutal and unforgiving cobbled sections graded for their difficulty.

It’s more a battle for survival than a bike race. One professional rider once said “every year you ride Roubaix, you lose a year off your life” and I’m not sure this is an exaggeration either. There is an awful lot of luck involved in winning Paris Roubaix as well as brute strength and being able to handle your bike, and you must take your chances to be a winner.

George Hincapie of BMC (left) alongside his leader, Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans. Photo: John Pierce/PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Victory in this race will bring you legendary status and it will not matter what the rest of your career brings; you will always be a Roubaix winner. It’s not always won by the big favourites as was the case last year when Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervello) won, he took his chance and it paid off for him.

One man who would dearly love to win ‘The Hell Of The North’ and deserves to win, is American George Hincapie (BMC). Like Van Summeren, Hincapie has devoted a lot of his cycling career to assisting others to achieve their goals, most of all Lance Armstrong and more recently Cadel Evans. This is not to say George hasn’t had success of his own and his palmares is the envy of any professional cyclist.

It’s possible that this year could well be George’s final chance to win the prized Roubaix Cobble Stone Trophy and stand in the centre of the velodrome holding it aloft in front of tens of thousands. There is little doubt that if he enters the velodrome alone on 8th April, the cheers will be heard across the Atlantic in Greenville. In the hearts of cycling fans, there is probably no one else they would rather see win than the legend that is George Hindcapie.

I was very privileged to get a Q&A with George about Roubaix and a few other topics.

Paul Burgoine: What do you remember about your first Paris-Roubaix?
George Hincapie: Not much! I was just thinking that I was going to be in over my head. And I was.

PB: Will BMC give you the freedom to ride for yourself in this year’s race?
George Hincapie: My role has changed in the past few years. I’m more of a captain on the road, helping the other guys like Thor Hushovd. It’s a role I’m comfortable with and it still allows me to ride my own race if the opportunity comes about.

PR shot of ‘Big George’ who also has his own clothing and development team.  Photo: BMC/Tim de Waele

PB: The 2006 crash when your fork snapped is an iconic image in PR history, what were you thinking while sitting by the roadside?
George Hincapie: I was pretty dazed. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking. Probably something along the lines of knowing my race was over.

PB: What is the appeal of Roubaix for you?
George Hincapie: It’s a race that’s challenging unlike a lot of others. You have to be good, you have to be in good position all the time and you have to have a little bit of luck.

PB: The past few years, coming up to Roubaix, the talking point is always…. so, and so, will win… But I would love to see George Hincapie win; do you still think you have a realistic chance?
George Hincapie: I would like to win, for sure. Every year I get there, I enter the race ready to compete and go for the win. But I’m in a little different position now. I do my job first. I have my whole career. So if the opportunity arises, I’ll be there and take advantage of it.

PB: Is it easier approaching Roubaix at this point in your career with no pressure?
George Hincapie: There’s always some pressure to perform. Whether it’s just doing my job or getting the right opportunity to be in a position to win. But if you look at guys like Eddy Planckaert and Franco Ballerini who won it later in their careers, it gives me hope that there’s still an opportunity for me.

PB: What do you think makes a good Classics rider?
George Hincapie: Years and years of doing those races and years and years of training. And it always helps to have a little luck as well. And to take risks at the right time.

PB: What has been your favourite and worse year in the race?
George Hincapie: I really enjoyed last year’s race up until I had a bit of bad luck (flat tire at bad time). I can’t remember another time when I put on sunblock before that race. As for the bad, probably the year Museeuw won and Boonen was third (2002). I was in great shape that year but I didn’t do the little things to be ready for the end. I didn’t eat and I got cold and I came unglued in the last 30 kilometres. (He finished sixth.)

PB: How are things progressing with your development squad?
George Hincapie: It’s been going well. I spent an entire week riding with them in Greenville for their camp there. We have a lot of promising young guys who are anxious to get more experience and see what they can do in some of the bigger races in the US. They got off to a good start – winning the Tour of Bahamas in their first race.

PB: Given your love of tennis, will we be seeing you playing at Wimbledon anytime soon?
George Hincapie: (Laughs) I don’t think so. I played Amaël Moinard last fall at our wrap-up camp and I had my hands full with him. So I think I’ll stick to playing in Greenville when I can.

PB: Who gave you the nickname Gorgeous George?
George Hincapie: I haven’t heard that one. It’s usually “Big George” that I’ve heard over the years.

PB: This year, you will ride your 17th Tour de France. How does that feel and does it still excite you?
George Hincapie: I always look forward to the Tour. It’s where I met my wife Melanie, and it’s one of the few bicycle races that nearly everyone around the world has heard of and knows about. So to race on the greatest stage with so many people watching is always exciting.

PB: Do you get as much satisfaction out of being in a Tour de France winning team, as the winner do?
George Hincapie: It’s really nice to be on the winning team. After doing it nine times, you almost get used to it. But you never take the Tour for granted. It’s been a privilege to help a teammate win the Tour. It’s satisfying just to finish the race, not to mention watching someone like Cadel win it for the first time. It was a great moment, for sure.



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