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Hincapie, feeling ‘better than ever,’ making his 2011 debut at Eroica next weekend

Hincapie will start his season with a tough race. Photo: (c)Tim De Waele
Hincapie will start his season with a tough race. Photo: (c)Tim De Waele

George Hincapie feels better than ever. That’s saying a lot as the BMC veteran is on the eve of his 2011 debut – his 18th as a professional — at Montepaschi Strade Bianchi Saturday.

“I need to get to Eroica and Tirreno to get some racing in my legs and get the rhythm of the high speed and intensity back into my preparation for the classics,” he told VeloNews on Monday. “I feel strong. I definitely feel a lot better than I did at this time last year.”

Hincapie delayed the start of his season this year and will fly to Italy from his home in Greenville, South Carolina, on Wednesday. His first block of racing will open on the strade bianche this weekend and include the seven-day stage race Tirreno-Adriatico and the first of the season’s monuments, Milan-San Remo.

The 2005 runner-up at Paris-Roubaix said that opting for the warm, dry weather in Greenville has kept him in good health in the build-up to his first start. Hincapie will make what may be his last assault on the spring classics in March and April and has motorpaced four or five days a week and eliminated all travel since BMC’s January training camp to avoid the illness that had him entering the season a step back in 2010.

“I’ve really tried to give myself a pretty much perfect environment for training,” said Hincapie. “I’m going to see how that plays out over the next month. I hope that I can reap the benefits from that.”

Hincapie said he’ll use Eroica to put speed back into his legs and hoped to be in a position to help his team with Alessandro Ballan showing good form. The rolling Tuscan semi-classic will be the toughest debut of Hincapie’s career.

“It’ll probably be the hardest race that I’ve ever started my season off with. That’s for sure,” he said. “I’m healthy and I feel fresh. The first few races it’ll be hard to adapt, but I should start going pretty good toward the end of Tirreno and have a good San Remo and the classics moving forward.”

After Milan-San Remo, Hincapie will regroup for a run at the northern classics, including the Tour of Flanders, where he was well positioned with the favorites when Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara made the race-winning move on the Molenberg last year. He went on to finish sixth, four days after running fourth at Ghent-Wevelgem.

Hincapie on Phinney

While Hincapie will open his season this weekend, his protégé Taylor Phinney was sidelined last Friday with a concussion suffered in a training crash in Lucca, Italy. The injury came just weeks after Phinney made his professional debut at the Tour of Oman after a bout of tendonitis delayed his own start to 2011.

The rolling hills and white gravel roads of Tuscany await Hincapie on Saturday.

Hincapie said he expects that Phinney won’t miss a beat.

“I don’t put much into it because he has such a good, strong, positive head on his shoulders. He knows that,” said Hincapie. “Even at camp, he couldn’t ride that much with us, but he was always upbeat and outgoing, where a lot of guys would have been depressed and on their own. He was fine throughout the whole camp. Someone like that, they bounce back really quick.

“These early races, they’re great to be good at, but at the end of the day, they won’t mean much once he starts getting back to being 100-percent healthy and fit and starts being successful. These first two months of the season will be quickly forgotten about.”

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