By Andrew Hood
With the classics season now in full swing, U.S. Postal Service is regrouping with its consistent heavy-hitter George Hincapie out of the picture.
Hincapie returned to the United States just days after it was announced March 15 the 29-year-old he would not be competing in the spring classics due to a lingering viral infection that left the 2001 Gent-Wevelgem champion rundown and tired.
With Hincapie undergoing tests for a possible return by May, however, the Posties will be entering Sunday’s Tour of Flanders in uncharted territory.
“We have to rethink our tactics because George was always there in the important races,” U.S. Postal’s sport director Johan Bruyneel told VeloNews. “We could always count on George, but we decided it was better he not race if he wasn’t going to be 100-percent.”
Instead, the team will be looking to Max Van Heeswijk and Viatcheslav Ekimov to step up. Van Heeswijk has already proved his worth after signing with the Posties after two seasons with Domo, finishing second at Het Volk in early March and third at the Travers les Flanders (Waregem) on Wednesday.
Ekimov was active in the sprints at last week’s Setmana Catalana and Bruyneel also said riders such as Tony Cruz and Christian Vande Velde will be given freedom.
“We have Max, who will have a freer role. He is fast in the sprint and he is in good shape,” Bruyneel said. “Eki is also coming back. He was sick for awhile, but he’s doing well. There are more opportunities for people now.”
Bruyneel complimented Hincapie’s professionalism in dealing with the setback, which comes at the worst possible time for the former U.S. champion. Hincapie wants to return in time for the Tour de France and will focus on the second half of the World Cup season, the GP San Francisco and perhaps a run at the world championships in October.
“He’s accepted it. In the beginning he was depressed, but now he’s over it. The spring is over for him and now he has to focus on the after-Tour season, which is new for him,” Bruyneel said. “We don’t how long George will be back in the States. He’s doing some more testing to see how his condition is. There will be plenty of other races for George.”
Lance Armstrong, meanwhile, will race at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold, two classics where the four-time Tour de France winner has shined. Armstrong was second at Liege in 1994 behind Evgeni Berzin and second again in 1996 to Pascal Richard just months before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. At Amstel Gold, Armstrong finished second behind Michael Boogerd in 1999 and second behind Erik Dekker in 2001. Armstrong’s next race is Circuit de la Sarthe (April 8-11).
“We decided very early Lance wasn’t going to start Milan-San Remo,” Bruyneel said. “He’ll race Liege and Amstel, races that fit in well with his program.”Millar out for two weeks
David Millar will undergo surgery after badly bruising his hip during a fall in Sunday’s Criterium International, his French team Cofidis said.
Millar will be operated on Tuesday in the southwestern city of Biarritz, with the rider, who also hurt his elbow, expected to be out for two weeks, missing Friday’s Route Adelie, the Rennes GP and the Sarthe Circuit.Copyright AFP2003