TELLURIDE, Colorado (VN) — George Hincapie started Monday’s opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge as the elder statesman in a retirement tour of Colorado. He finished the day having ridden in the surprisingly large, nearly GC-shaping breakaway through the San Juan Mountains.
“That was really hard,” Hincapie told VeloNews at the finish, leaning over his handlebars.
Hincapie, who in July set a new mark for Tour de France longevity when he started his 17th Grande Boucle, announced his retirement earlier this season, saying he would ride the Pro Challenge as the final event of his 19-year professional career.
“This is definitely not a decision that has been easy,” said Hincapie in June. “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.”
He laughed Monday at the finish when VeloNews asked whether the ride was a good way to kick off his retirement tour. The former New Yorker, now a resident of Greenville, South Carolina, is here for more than a parade around Colorado. And it was clear on Monday that BMC had one thing on its collective mind: delivering a rider to yellow in Denver on Sunday.
When the team’s potential GC riders, namely Tejay van Garderen and Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah champ Johann Tschopp, missed the move, Hincapie had to find his way there — still contributing.
“It was a strong move and we needed to have guys up there, so I made a really big effort to get in it,” Hincapie told VeloNews.
But with a flat Michael Schär also in the 22-rider breakaway, which contained a number of GC favorites, among them Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali, BMC wasn’t satisfied with the move. The team had to balance its hopes for a stage win by Hincapie against its GC aspirations. If the move had gone to the line, Hincapie would have been a top favorite for the stage — but the team’s shot at an overall win would have been gone.
“Honestly, it was just such a hard day,” said Hincapie. “We went uphill for 80km and there’s no air. I think everybody was completely exhausted. When you’ve got a move with four Garmin guys and one of me, and Mickie (Schar) said he was no good, I told them (BMC teammates) to chase.”
So the riders in red and black went to work.
“It was not good for us, so we ended up working the whole day,” said team director Michael Sayers. “We were just lucky to bring the break back.”
And that they did — after Hincapie dropped off near Lizard Head Pass — along with Astana, UnitedHealthcare, Team Type 1 and Bissell. In the end, what looked like it could be the race-making breakaway, à la the 2007 Tour of Missouri and Tour de Georgia, gave way to the bunch finish many expected. Hincapie missed his shot at a fairytale stage win in his farewell tour, but he’ll have more days.
The team has six more days to figure out a way to pull yellow from Garmin, which delivered Tyler Farrar to the stage and the overall lead in Telluride. Tuesday’s uphill finale to Mount Crested Butte is a major opportunity.