Hincapie vows to help Hushovd in Roubaix

Hincapie seems to have thrown in the towel on his own dreams of winning the Hell of the North

George Hincapie vows to help his new BMC teammate Thor Hushovd at Paris-Roubaix and seems to have thrown in the towel on his own dreams of winning the Hell of the North.

Hincapie, now 38, says his primary goal in April will be helping the former world champion make a run at the cobblestone classic.

“I will be Thor’s wingman in Roubaix,” Hincapie said. “I have a lot of experience in Roubaix. I’ve done 16-17 times, I’ve done well there. I can be there to help him.”

Hincapie has had a long-running love/hate relationship with Europe’s hardest classic.

Second in 2005 and six times in the top-10, Hincapie has consistently posted the best American results across the punishing cobbles of northern France. His close calls have made him a well-known figure in Belgium, where fans recognize him walking through the Brussels airport, something that doesn’t happen very often in the United States.

What does it take to win Roubaix? Hincapie said he’s learned a few things over the years.

“Well, you have to be very fit, you have to have experience on the cobbles and you have to have one of those days when everything goes right,” he explained. “You cannot have any equipment problems, no flats, no crashes, you have to be at the front. The last 5-10km before the velodrome are very important. It’s such a hard race, it’s all about saving your energy.”

BMC will field one of the strongest classics teams in the coming weeks. In addition to Hushovd and Hincapie — Philippe Gilbert has already said he will not race Roubaix this year — BMC will bring former Flanders winner Alessandro Ballan, Marcus Burghardt, Manuel Quinziato and Taylor Phinney.

BMC sport director Fabio Baldato said that the team will start with Hushovd as the team leader, but didn’t discount a similar strategy of how Garmin-Cervélo took a surprise Roubaix last year with Johan Vansummeren, who went on a late-race solo flier as Hushovd marked the wheel of pre-race favorite Fabian Cancellara.

“Everyone will be looking to Thor as one of the favorites,” Baldato said. “We start with the idea of riding for Thor, but you never know what will happen during the race. We will start with Thor and a very strong team to support him.”

Could that mean a scenario might open up to allow Hincapie a shot the elusive Roubaix trophy?

Hincapie is playing the role as a loyal team player and said it’s simply a matter of accepting the reality that riders such as Hushovd, 34, have the momentum now. Hincapie is continuing on a transition into the domestique role that began few years ago when he switched to Highroad in 2008 and started to help Mark Cavendish in the sprints.

“Thor has it to win Roubaix,” Hincapie said. “Thor is the type of guy who needs some help in the final. I hope I can be there for him, if I can be there.”

Hushovd is certainly hoping so.