Julich, Leipheimer still waiting
By Andrew Hood
George Hincapie will ride for the next three seasons with Discovery Channel after penning a contract extension to stay with the American team during the recent Tour de France.
Hincapie has raced in the U.S. Postal Service colors since 1997 and decided it was best to continue with the team as cable giant Discovery Channel is set to take over the sponsorship for the 2005 season.
“I’ve signed for three more years. I’m staying,” Hincapie told VeloNews after finishing 56th at 5:24 back in Saturday’s Clasica San Sebastián. “I had some offers and we didn’t know if the team was going to continue, so it was important to start looking around. I have it good on the team. I’ve been here almost my whole career. The team really supports me, it’s been really good.”
There was some speculation that Hincapie might join a team with a stronger focus on the spring classics, the favorite hunting ground for the 31-year-old New Yorker. Hincapie has finished fourth at Paris-Roubaix and won Ghent-Wevelgem in 2002, but also focuses heavily on supporting team captain Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France.
Hincapie is the only rider to be part of all six of Armstrong’s Tour victories and enjoyed his best Tour in 2004, helping Armstrong high into the difficult climbing stages.
For 2005, Hincapie said his focus will remain the same: the spring classics early in the season before building his strength for the Tour. Armstrong still has not publicly disclosed what races he’ll start in 2005, but Hincapie said his program will remain the same.
“I’ll still do the classics and the Tour, we’ll have to see what Lance ends up doing,” Hincapie said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do, but maybe he’ll end up doing some of the classics as well. He’s mentioned he wants to do some of the classics. It could be good with us together.”
Two other Americans racing Saturday – Bobby Julich and Levi Leipheimer – both said their contracts are still not finalized for 2005. Julich joined Team CSC with a one-year contract while Leipheimer is coming off his third season with the Dutch Rabobank team.
All three are heading Tuesday to Athens to begin preparations for the Olympic Summer Games.
Concerning the fate of Axel Merckx – the Belgian rider on Lotto-Domo who was linked to possibly joining Discovery Channel for 2005 – it now appears the son of cycling legend Eddy Merckx will be signing on to race with Jean René Bernaudeau, the manager of Brioches La Boulangere. The Belgian daily La Deniere Heure reported Saturday that Merckx is “95 percent sure” to sign with the French team, which is expected to announce a new sponsor for the 2005 season.