By Andrew Hood
It’s crunch time for George Hincapie and his quest to win a northern classic.
The 35-year-old enters the most important week of his racing calendar more confident than ever that an elusive trophy from Flanders or Roubaix will soon be his.
The Columbia-Highroad rider says he’s feeling “stronger than ever” and has enjoyed one of the best winter preparations of his career, racing in the Tour Down Under for the first time and spending most of January training in California.
Results can be deceiving in cycling. Although Hincapie has yet to win a race so far this year, he says he’s reached another level in fitness and preparation ahead of the classics.
Hincapie rode well throughout Tirreno-Adriatico and his support was essential for Mark Cavendish and his dramatic victory at Milan-San Remo. Hincapie helped position Cavendish over the Poggio and then gave him an excellent lead-out for the sprint.
Rivals have also noted that Hincapie will be a favorite for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday and Paris-Roubaix on April 12.
“George is always good for the classics. He’s one of the most professional riders. You can count on him being there,” said ex-director Dirk Demol, now at Astana. “I hope for him his dream can come true. He deserves it. Columbia will have a strong team for the classics. If one of our guys cannot win, I hope he does.”
VeloNews recently caught up with Hincapie as he appraised his condition ahead of the classics. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: How are you feeling coming into the spring classics?
George Hincapie: I am fit. I had a good winter. I trained hard, so we’ll see what happens. I think I will be as good as ever for Roubaix and Flanders, probably better.
VN: You were riding very well in Italy, what’s different?
GH: I feel good this year. I feel better than I have in a long time. Flanders and Roubaix are the big goals. I will have a break after that, so I will do whatever I can do until then.
VN: What changes have you made this year in your training?
GH: I raced at Tour Down Under, which helped my fitness a bit. I was in California for January for training. We had better weather and I trained harder than I did in other winters. I feel good, so hopefully we’ll be able to take advantage of that.
VN: Do you feel like you have some unfinished business with the classics?
GH: Definitely, last year I felt great in Roubaix, just had bad some bad luck. Hopefully I can feel better and have good luck. It’s Roubaix, anything can happen. I’ve had some Roubaixs where everything as far as luck went OK. I haven’t pulled it off yet, but I am still confident I can still do it.
VN: You’ve been a pro for a long time, do you still have the same motivation to race and train?
GH: I’ve been in the game a long time. This is my 16th year as a pro, I don’t feel like I am slowing down at all. I feel like I am even getting stronger. I am also picking and choosing my efforts a little more wisely, and maybe that is why the motivation is still there. I am feeling better than ever. I feel strong and motivated. The head is good. At California, I didn’t get stage win, but I was one of the strongest guys in the last couple of days, which is a good sign. I am not slowing down.
VN: If you had to choose between Flanders and Roubaix, which would it be?
GH: Either one, Roubaix is more important in America, but Flanders is just as important and just as hard.
VN: Do you feel in a way cursed with the classics?
GH: It’s a thin line between bad luck and winning, but that’s cycling. You just have to keep fighting and when it finally happens, it will all be worth it.
VN: How confident are you this year compared to other springs?
GH: I feel good. My chances are as good as anybody going in. The team is awesome.
VN: What about your goals after the classics?
GH: I want to get a stage for myself at the Tour and try to help Mark Cavendish in the sprints. I’ll look for breakaways in the mountains and see how I go.