Road

Hincapie headlines T-Mobile additions

George Hincapie sat in a U.S. national team jersey Friday afternoon for lunch in Stuttgart with another dozen pros, but only two compatriots shared the meal. Joining him at the table were Brits, an Italian, a German sport director and one team manager with a Cheshire cat’s grin in the form of Bob Stapleton. Hincapie won’t officially don a T-Mobile jersey until later this season, but the 34-year-old American was the marquee name among 10 new riders unveiled for the German team for the 2008 season. For Hincapie, the move marks a clear departure from his past as he’s set to ride on only his

Devine and Lewis among 10 new riders

By Andrew Hood

Hincapie has been speaking with Stapleton for some time now. The two are seen here, chatting during February's ...

Hincapie has been speaking with Stapleton for some time now. The two are seen here, chatting during February’s …

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

George Hincapie sat in a U.S. national team jersey Friday afternoon for lunch in Stuttgart with another dozen pros, but only two compatriots shared the meal.

Joining him at the table were Brits, an Italian, a German sport director and one team manager with a Cheshire cat’s grin in the form of Bob Stapleton.

Hincapie won’t officially don a T-Mobile jersey until later this season, but the 34-year-old American was the marquee name among 10 new riders unveiled for the German team for the 2008 season.

For Hincapie, the move marks a clear departure from his past as he’s set to ride on only his third team of his pro career after 11 extraordinary seasons in a U.S. Postal Service/Discovery Channel jersey.

“It feels like I am starting over. I’m excited about what’s coming up this season,” Hincapie told VeloNews. “I needed a new start and I believe with T-Mobile it’s a perfect team. I’ve seen other riders change teams and get stronger. I was set in my ways somewhat at Discovery Channel. I am looking forward to a new challenge.”

Hincapie and track specialist Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) were the lone veterans among 10 new fresh-faced riders for T-Mobile that’s heavy on youth. Some 12 riders will leave the team for next season.

Stapleton couldn’t hide his pleasure in introducing his hot new talent for the upcoming season.

“We’ve got a great team for next season, maybe one of the youngest in cycling. We have 12 riders who are 25 or under,” Stapleton said. “The key to developing young talent is to have good leadership and have teammates they can be inspired from and from who they can learn how to be a pro and how to win races on the bike.”

Hincapie – set to captain the U.S. elite men’s road team on Sunday – said he’s more than happy to take on the role as the elder statesman on the team.

Following Hincapie’s lead were emerging U.S. pros Craig Lewis (Slipstream-Chipotle) and John Devine (Discovery Channel), two riders heavily promoted by Hincapie.

“When I joined Motorola, riders like Sean Yates, Phil Anderson and Steve Bauer really helped me become a pro,” Hincapie said. “If I can give half that to these guys – John and Craig – that would be part of my role as a mentor.”

Also new for T-Mobile are Norwegian speedster Edvald Boasson Hagen (Maxbo Bianchi), Thomas Lovkvist (FDJeux), Kanstantsin Siutsou (Barloworld), Tony Martin (Energie), Vicente Reynes (Caisse d’Epargne) and Morris Possoni (Lampre-Fondital).

The effort marks the second major overhaul for T-Mobile as it continues to restructure the team following the tumultuous 2006 season that saw team icon and leader Jan Ullrich implicated in the Operación Puerto doping scandal.

Since Stapleton joined the team late in the 2006 season, only five riders that were part of the 29-rider squad introduced at the beginning of the year remain for 2008.

Departures include Axel Merckx and Giuseppe Guerini (both retiring) as well as Eric Baumann, Andre Korff, Aaron Olson, Jakob Piil, Frank Rabon, Stephan Schreck and Thomas Ziegler. Lorenzo Bernucci, Sergei Honchar and Patrik Sinkewitz were all fired after becoming involved in doping imbroglios.

“We’re building on a good 2007 season and we’re even more optimistic for 2008,” Stapleton said. “We won 35 races with 12 different riders. We’re proud of the results of our team.”

Devine and Lewis both expressed excitement about the prospect of not only following Hincapie to T-Mobile but at the opportunities to continue to develop their budding pro careers on the quality German outfit.

“It’s a perfect team for me,” said Devine, a neo-pro who joined Discovery Channel in August. “I had a long conversation with Bob on the phone and I believe in what he’s doing with the team. He could have offered me a happy meal and I would have signed.”

Lewis, fresh off top 10 finishes at the Tour of Ireland and Tour de l’Avenir in August, said Hincapie helped pull some strings to assure his addition to T-Mobile.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for George,” said Lewis, who, like Devine and Hincapie, penned a two-year deal with T-Mobile. “I’ve been with Slipstream for four years and I felt like I contributed. I love Bob’s vision about the team and I’m happy to be racing alongside George. I’d take that over anything.”

For Hincapie, joining T-Mobile keeps him at the top of the heap as he enters what he admits are the twilight years of his career.

The two-time U.S. champion says he still has some unfinished business in Europe and that T-Mobile provided the best vehicle to achieve those goals.

“And I’d like to get another Tour stage or win the prologue,” he said. “ I still want to win a Flanders or Roubaix. I’d be disappointed if I never won one of the classics. I’ve been so close before and I’ve had some bad luck. But luck swings both ways so maybe now the luck will swing my way.”

For some, Hincapie’s move to archrival T-Mobile is viewed as treachery. Kevin Livingston was roasted by Lance Armstrong when he signed with the team in 2001.

Back in the heyday of the Armstrong era, the German team headlined by perennial Tour contender Ullrich was always the leading nemesis.

Hincapie — the only rider to be part of all seven of Armstrong’s record Tour wins — said the days of the Armstrong-Ullrich rivalry are long gone.

“I’ve heard some of that,” Hincapie said with a laugh. “People always change teams. In other sports, people change teams in the middle of the season. This is a completely different team from when we were going head-to-head against T-Mobile. There are new riders. It’s the same name, different team.”

For Hincapie, turning the page on the Armstrong/Discovery era is just what he needs.

T-Mobile for 2008Michael BarryEdvald Boasson HagenMarcus BurghardtMark CavendishGerald CiolekScott DavisJohn DevineBernhard EiselLinus GerdemannBert GrabschAndre GreipelRoger HammondAdam HansenGreg HendersonGeorge HincapieKim KirchenAndreas KlierServais KnavenCraig LewisThomas LövkvistTony MartinMarco PinottiMorris PossoniVicente ReynesMichael RogersKanstantsin SiutsouBradley Wiggins