By Andrew Hood
George Hincapie enters what will be his most important World Cup campaign at the Milan-San Remo season-opener Saturday, March 23. It will be the eighth time Hincapie’s entered the traditional start of the European racing season.
Following his breakthrough season last year, when he won Ghent-Wevelgem and the San Francisco Grand Prix as well as helped teammate Lance Armstrong win a third-straight Tour de France, Hincapie has high hopes for 2002 season.
Last week, however, Hincapie was sidelined by a stomach virus that struck March 12 and kept him in bed for two days and out of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage-race, a key warm-up for Milan-San Remo. Hincapie hasn’t raced since he finished second to Jaan Kirsipuu at Haribo Classic in late February.
VeloNews’ Andrew Hood spoke with Hincapie by Tuesday evening after the U.S. Postal Service rider returned from a seven-hour training ride in the hills near his European base in Girona, Spain. Here are excerpts from their conversation:
On getting sick: “I was knocked out. It was some sort of stomach flu. Getting out of bed was a major ordeal. I was just wiped out physically and mentally.
I was fine two days later but I was really weak. I really wanted to go to Tirreno-Adriatico, but the team doctor said no. They really know how to put the brakes on me when I need it. The doc told me it was better not to go than risk digging myself a deeper hole. Instead, I took the time to recover and I trained hard. I had a lot of energy this week with training.
I think I was just pissed off that I’ve been sick. I’ve been training super-hard.
Since I couldn’t go to Tirreno, I had to work super hard to simulate what I would have done at the race.”
On his preparation for Milan-San Remo: “I feel good now. I don’t how it will be during the race because I haven’t raced since Classic Haribo (in late February). I’m hoping I’ll be OK. I know I feel good now. The training’s been going real well. I’ve been going out for long rides, 5, 6, 7 hours, with a lot of climbs from 5 to 10 kilometers.”
On his expectations at Milan-San Remo: “San Remo is a super-hard race. It’s the first World Cup, there are tons of fans. The race is important to the team. It’s important that I do well. I’ve done everything I could in training to be ready. I would like to be 100-percent for (Tour of) Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. It’s difficult to be 100-percent for all three. Ideally, I would like to arrive at Flanders and Roubaix in top form. I don’t know how my body’s going to respond after being sick and not racing. I felt I’ve made up for it in training.”
His view on Erik Zabel’s success at Milan San Remo, with four victories in five years: “Zabel’s a super rider who gets his sights set on San Remo. It’s hard to say exactly why he does so well. The race is such a crapshoot. There’s no way to describe Zabel’s success.”
On Lance Armstrong’s commitment to help Hincapie during the SpringClassics: “It means a lot. By Lance making the change to schedule to be here, it shows how much he believes in me. He calls me and tells me he getting ready for me.
As a friend and as a teammate, I don’t want to let him down.”
On his expectations for the 2002 season: “I feel better than ever. I’m more confident and more sure of myself this year. I’ve been training super-hard and I’m very motivated.”
On his break-through victory last year at Ghent-Wevelgem: “It was very important for me to be up in the races and finally win one. It was a big morale booster to know all my hard work paid off. The SpringClassics are huge in my mind. To have all my hard work pay off was great.
Winning the race at San Francisco helped a lot, too. A win always helps.”
On how the Spring Classics became so important to him: “I watched them as a kid and I read the magazines. They captured my imagination. When I first turned pro with Motorola (in 1994), it was almost like a Classics team. We had Phil (Anderson), (Steve) Bauer, Sean Yates, Max Sciandri.
Even Lance in those days was a Classics rider. I was amazed how those guys would get so up for the Classics. I just felt comfortable in those races.
A lot guys get real nervous for the races, but it didn’t bother me. Early on I discovered it would be my style of racing. I remember my first Paris-Roubaix, it was one of those rainy, cold, snowy days. Yates I think was fifth that day and I remember riding into the velodrome and everyone was making a big deal that I finished the race. To me, I just finished, but everyone made a big deal about it. I found out very quickly I wanted to specialize in the Classics.”
On whether he will make a run for the overall World Cup title: “It’s something I’m interested in. I feel good in the hills this year. I can, theoretically, do well in the entire World Cup. Ask me after Amstel Gold.”