‘I have to win a big classic before I retire’
By Andrew Hood
George Hincapie is hoping a switch to T-Mobile will bring him closer to winning an elusive Classics victory.
After racing from 1997-2007 at U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel, the 34-year-old had a feeling that a change would do him some good.
Hincapie said new teammates and a innovative philosophy under the leadership of Bob Stapleton will help keep him motivated as he enters a two-year deal with the German team looking to increase its North American profile.
A few years ago, a switch to rival T-Mobile would have been seen as a major controversy, but times change and Hincapie’s presence in the magenta jersey of T-Mobile reveals how much the sport has changed in the past few years.
VeloNews caught up with Hincapie recently to discuss his switch to T-Mobile. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VN.com: You already made up your mind to leave Discovery Channel even before the team announced it would fold, why the decision to change?
George Hincapie: It was a very attractive opportunity. My legs are still good. I am still healthy. At this point of my career, motivation is key. The change of teams is motivating to me right now. I missed the Classics last year, so that already gives me motivation to get back and try to do better than I ever have. I’ve seen other riders change teams and become so much stronger, so I think I can still improve.
VN.com: How long have you known Bob Stapleton?
GH: I wouldn’t say a long while. I think I met him for the first time at the GP San Francisco a few years back when he was involved with the women’s team. Really in the last year-and-a-half we started talking a lot. I’m excited about what he’s doing with the team and with his commitment to clean sport.
VN.com: Has there been any backlash against you coming to T-Mobile? A few years ago with Armstrong at Discovery this would have been a major scandal. Things have changed, but the teams have been rivals for a long time, have you heard any of that?
GH: You hear some of that, oh no, he’s gone to T-Mobile! People change teams all the time. If you look at any other sport, baseball or basketball, and people change teams in the middle of the season. This is just how the sport evolves. When we were going head-to-head with T-Mobile, it would have been different, but things have changed a lot since then. This year, we have 10 new riders joining T-Mobile, it’s a different team with just the same name.
VN.com: Have you noticed any differences with your limited contact so far with T-Mobile?
GH: Here, they are more interested in new technology and they really wanted to involve me with the development of the bikes, the wheels, the positions. I’m super excited about that. I met with the technical director yesterday and they already have my road bike ready. They want to get my TT position so they can get started on that. We’re just in the last days of September, so that’s pretty exciting to see. I think there is always room for improvement, so they want the best of the best.
VN.com: You rode almost your entire professional career with the same team, were you interested in making a change for the sake of change, or were you particularly interested in T-Mobile?
GH: I only have a few years left, two, three, four years maximum, and I did want to see what else is out there. I’ve been with the same team almost my whole career and there are not many riders who can say that. A lot of the potential for me to improve is the motivation I have. Maybe I had been on the same team for too long and I knew what to expect. I wouldn’t change the time I’ve had in Discovery for anything. It was awesome and I am going to miss a lot of those guys. But I wanted something to look forward to and a new start.
VN.com: The obvious question – a big classic is still your top goal?
GH: I have to win a big World Cup – a Flanders or a Roubaix — before I retire. Winning a stage at the Tour was a huge experience for me. If I can knock out a prologue or another Tour stage, that would be great. Then there are the U.S. races that are more important, maybe not in the eyes of the world, but in the U.S., the races are huge. When you show up to the Tour of California, Georgia, nationals, Missouri, there are so many spectators. It’s becoming more and more important for myself and a lot of the U.S. riders. It’s a sign of how the sport is growing in the U.S. Maybe you don’t get UCI points, but it’s still important for us to try to perform well there.
VN.com: Do you feel like you won’t be satisfied if you don’t win a major classic?
GH: Yes, I would be disappointed. I’ve been close to winning Roubaix before and I know there are a lot of people who would like to see me win that, including myself. I would be totally happy with my career, but I would feel like I missed out on something if I didn’t win a big classic. I’ve had some unfortunate situations in the past but luck changes. Sometimes you win a race when you least expect, so I still have hope.
VN.com: Do you see any significant changes in your schedule? Do you think you will have more opportunities with this team?
GH: I think my program will remain basically the same. The Classics and the Tour will remain the focus. I had plenty of opportunities with my other team. I don’t know if I will have more. I will still be one of the leaders for the Classics. Even if I am at a race where I am not ready to fight to win the race, the team will rely on me to be a captain on the road. There’s more room on this new team with the amount of young riders to be able to help them evolve.
VN.com: There’s talk that you can be a sort of mentor to guys like Craig Lewis and John Devine, is that a role you want to develop?
GH: For sure. I’ve been where these guys are now. When I came into (Motorola), I had guys like Phil Anderson, Steve Bauer and Sean Yates helping me. Those guys gave me so much and taught me so much. Still to this day, when I see those guys, I am so thankful. I know how important they were to my career. If I can give just half of what they gave to me, that’s part of my role on the team is to help some of the younger guys.
VN.com: Will T-Mobile become a new North American pipeline for talent, first with Michael Barry coming on, then he helped you come here, and now you’ve helped Craig and John?
GH: I know Bob wants more brand awareness in North America for T-Mobile, so an obvious step is to get the best American riders. He’s done a good job at acquiring some of the best young talent. I’ve been around a long time, so there might be some more emphasis on North American racing for the team next year.
VN.com: Do you ever see the point that the U.S. races could become more important than the European events?
GH: Yes and no. Races like Roubaix and the Tour will always be a big focus. I can see some of the other races on the calendar aren’t as important as the races in the U.S. Like the Tour of Germany this year, I was just riding there trying to keep fit, even though it’s a big race and the Germans were flying in their home race. Races in the U.S. are important, but only for the U.S. riders. I’ve been (racing in the U.S. and Europe) my whole career anyway. I race in the U.S. when it fits in with the calendar. Like the Tour of California, it’s perfect to get ready for the Classics and maybe try to win a stage or two. You can see how Cali and the Classics are a good fit. Georgia could be good to get ready for the Tour. The fans are super-enthusiastic. They cheer just as much for the first-place guy as the last-place guy. They just love to see the races go by.
VN.com: Have you seen the suggestions of making a Tour of America, what do you think of that?
GH: Any race in America is exciting, but there’s no reason to try out do a grand tour. That’s long enough as it is. I don’t see any reason in the world to make it longer. Anything over three weeks is getting out of hand. In my view, it would be seen as adventure racing or something like that. They should keep it to three weeks and it might work. Keep it shorter – there’s not reason why we need to be doing 300km stages. I am in full support of any efforts like that in the U.S.