Homage to George Hincapie: Hanging up his helmet

One subject has dominated the cycling cyberspace today: the announcement of the impending retirement of George Hincapie (BMC). Everyone’s favourite American is calling time on his successful 19-year career in the pro peloton after this year’s Tour de France and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, and tributes have been pouring in from around the cycling world.

While Hincapie will perhaps best be remembered as the man who rode on all of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour victories, he has had an enviable career in his own right. He has been an Olympian five times (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008); a Tour de France individual stage winner (stage 15, 2005) and he has finished both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders 17 times.

Rolling out of the starthouse at the prologue in Liege at this year’s Tour de France will bring him another record – 17 participations in cycling’s greatest race. At the moment, he shares the record for 16 Tour starts (and 15 finishes) with Joop Zoetemelk. In addition to the seven wins with Lance, he’s also helped Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel, 2007) and Cadel Evans (BMC, 2011) to Tour victories – one of only two riders to have been on a Tour winner’s team nine times. Cadel Evans is hoping to make that 10 times with a win this year:

“It’s a dream at this point, but it’s a dream that I’d like to deliver to George to thank him for all the sacrifices he’s made for me over the past few years.”

More than a record setter

These records, while impressive, might inadvertently convey the impression that George has just been a super domestique. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mechanical misadventures and dubious team tactics may have cost him the victory he yearned for in his favourite race, Paris-Roubaix, but he has put together an impressive palmares stretching back to his time as a junior racer.

Big George has racked up wins most years although, arguably, his best year was 2005, with a win in Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne, two stage wins at the Crtierium du Dauphine Libere and second in Paris-Roubaix. He topped the year off with his stage win in the Tour de France when, on July 17, he finished 7 seconds ahead of Oscar Pereiro to win stage 15 from Lezat-sur-Leze to Pla d’Adet.

Other stage wins include two at the Tour of California (2006), the overall and a stage at the Tour of Missouri (2007), and a stage at the 2008 Dauphine. He also won the US Professional Road Race championship three times (1998, 2006, 2009).

The Hell of the North

Although Hincapie had always set his sights on the Classics each year, he never actually won one of the Monuments. He was, however, seemingly always there or thereabouts on the cobbles in April: eight top 10 placements in Tour of Flanders; one win and five top 5 placements in Gent-Wevelgem; seven top 10 placements at Paris Roubaix; one win and a third place in Three Days of De Panne.

The Future

Hincapie has said that his decision was taken after much thought and discussion with his wife – a former Tour de France podium girl – and family.

This is definitely not a decision that has been easy. I came to the conclusion that I want to go out while I can still contribute and make a difference. To be able to compete for 19 years as a professional cyclist has been something I would have never dreamed of doing. But at the same time, it’s also going to be good to spend more time with my kids, who are getting to be the age where they miss me when I’m gone.

Hincapie also said he hopes to stay involved in the BMC Racing Team and the sport in some capacity.

I don’t want to get completely out of cycling. My company, Hincapie Sportswear, obviously revolves around cycling. So I want to see it grow while putting in more time with the people I love. But I also know that I’m still feeling strong and healthy and am ready to make a contribution to the team these last two months. I’m 100 percent motivated to help Cadel win another Tour.

Cadel Evans Pays Tribute

George in company of BMC team owner Andy Rihs and Cadel Evans (image courtesy of George Hincapie)

George in company of BMC team owner Andy Rihs and Cadel Evans (image courtesy of George Hincapie)

For his part, the defending Tour de France champion said he was saddened to hear one of his most trusted teammates will only be at his side for one more edition of the world’s greatest race.

I’m hoping that he’ll change his mind, probably like many other cycling fans around the world will do when they hear the news. George is incredible. He’s the core of the BMC Racing Team and not just on the road as a captain, but also in the structure of the team. He’s a part of so many aspects of everything we do because of his tremendous leadership.

 Unselfish Teamwork, Tireless Worker

It’s perhaps only fitting to let BMC Racing Team President Jim Ochowicz have the last word.

George was the first big rider to believe in the BMC Racing Team. He’s led us through the past three years of the Classics and grand tour seasons as both a leader and a teammate. I am very proud that he was able to start as a professional with me on the Motorola team in 1994 and that I’m still with him at the end of his career. It’s been an honour to bookend the career of one of the nicest people and one of the greatest cyclists America has ever produced.

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