By Andrew Hood
U.S. Postal’s George Hincapie is back and says he feels “better than ever” in time for Saturday’s start of the 2003 Tour de France.
Sidelined with health problems that derailed his spring classics campaign, Hincapie turned to non-traditional medicine to help find a cure for sinus problems and parasites that impaired his breathing and recovery.
Now he’s back in time to help Lance Armstrong make a run for a possible record-tying fifth Tour.
“I feel great, I feel really fresh and have a lot of enthusiasm to be on the bike,” Hincapie told VeloNews from his home base in Girona, Spain. “Every day I go out with so much motivation. It feels great to be healthy again.”
Hincapie’s problems started early this year, when he felt drained and exhausted after training rides. By the time racing season hit, Hincapie knew he had serious problems, but couldn’t get a straight answer from doctors.
“I felt bad for five months. It all started with a viral infection, which allowed these parasites to take over. It starts in your intestines and spreads to your lymph nodes, to your lungs,” Hincapie said.
The team decided the best thing for Hincapie was to the pull the plug on his beloved classics and return to the United States with hopes of recovering in time for July’s Tour. For Hincapie, who lives for such races as Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, watching them on television was torturous.
“It was really hard. I was emotionally stressed from missing the races I love doing,” Hincapie said. “I was so bad. I remember one day I went training with my brother and I was just wiped out. I was so upset.”
Hincapie said he received strong support from his family and friends, as well as from Armstrong, Bruyneel and Postal’s assistant sport director Dirk Demol, who kept Hincapie abreast of what was happening in Europe.
Frustrated with his poor sensations, Hincapie turned to alternative medicine at the insistence of his friend and manager. He started treatments in April that included herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage and other curative treatments.
“I went to non-conventional route, using oriental and Ayurvedic medicine and non-conventional treatments to get me back on track,” he said. Initially, the treatments made him feel worse, but eventually Hincapie said the toxins and parasites were cleansed from his body.
“I started gaining about 5 percent a week. One of the problems I was having was that my heart would be at 150 (bpm) on the flats and I would get tired right away. I remember one day going out and noticing my heart rate had stabilized and I was breathing better,” he said. “From that point on, my body finally came out of its cocoon. I could really push myself. I felt tired, but not sick tired.”
Hincapie’s return to Europe proved how effective his treatment was. Hincapie finished seventh overall at his first race back in late May at the demanding Tour of Belgium, where the Belgian riders were gunning full blast.
Then in June, Hincapie rode the mountainous Tour of Cataluyna with force, helping team captain Roberto Heras finish second before finishing second in a sprint in the final stage.
In May, he impressed Armstrong and U.S. Postal’s sport director Johan Bruyneel at the team’s pre-Tour training camp in the Alps, securing himself a spot on the 2003 Tour team.
“The George Hincapie we saw in the Alps was better than the George Hincapie last summer,” Armstrong said in early June. “He looked slimmer, stronger, fantastic, better than ever.”
Hincapie says he’s “never felt better” on the bike is motivated to push Armstrong back to the top spot at the Tour. Hincapie is the only rider who’s been on Armstrong’s four winning teams. To be back for the fifth is important to him.
“Being with Lance the last four years has meant a lot to me. Knowing how hard the Tour is, how hard Lance works, being a part of that is a big honor,” Hincapie said. “First of all, I wanted to get healthy, that was the most important thing, but I didn’t want to miss the Tour.”
Hincapie will leave in a few days for Paris for Saturday’s opening prologue. He says the team is confident in Armstrong and confident it can deliver another victory.
“I’m confident the team is strong. Seeing the guys climbing, ‘Triki,’ (Manuel Beltran) and Heras, they’re both going strong,” he said. “The Tour is three weeks long, anything can happen, but we’re hoping for the best of luck. We’ve worked as hard as we could, we couldn’t do anything more to be ready.”
Hincapie on ‘The Bachelor’?
Those rumors are true: George Hincapie was on a short list to be on the popular ABC show “The Bachelor.”
Last year, the program got wind of Hincapie’s popularity with the ladies and contacted his agent about the possibility of Hincapie trying out for the show.
“They do research on eligible people and found out about me. They came up with my name and contacted the team and talked with my agent for a long time,” Hincapie said. “They had me down on a short list of people they were considering. They were very interested, but it just wasn’t possible. There wasn’t enough time.”
The show is among the most popular of the “reality show” genre, when a bachelor chooses and eliminates women from a bevy of 25 candidates. But conflicts with Hincapie’s training and racing program took precedence over what would have been at least a six-week commitment, not to mention a very hard choice.
Hincapie said he found the entire idea rather amusing.
“I have a hard enough time choosing one, I can’t imagine having 25 girls to decide from,” he joked. “I’ve seen the show. The whole thing was pretty funny. I didn’t know what to think of it.”
French teams for Tour
Six French teams will be starting the 2003 Tour de France. Race organizers wanted a strong national representation in the centenary Tour, much to the dismay of such teams as Domina Vacanze and Phonak, which were among several teams left out to make room for the French presence.
In addition to the riders on the French teams, there are several other French riders on non-French teams, giving France an expected total of 39 French riders for the 90th Tour. Here’s a list of the lineup for the six French teams as published by L’Equipe:
Didier Rous (F)
Sylvain Chavanel (F)
Walter Bénéteau (F)
Franck Renier (F)
Damien Nazon (F)
Thomas Voeckler (F)
Anthony Geslin (F)
Maryan Hary (F)
Jérôme Pineau (F)
(Reserve: Jimmy Engoulvent)
Mikel Astarloza (Sp)
Iñigo Chaurreau (Sp)
Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia)
Alexandre Botcharov (Rus)
Laurent Brochard (F)
Andy Flickinger (F)
Christophe Oriol (F)
Nicolas Portal (F)
Ludovic Turpin (F)
(Reserve: Thierry Loder)
Médéric Clain (F)
Philippe Gaumont (F)
David Moncoutié (F)
Cédric Vasseur (F)
Massimiliano Lelli (I)
Guido Trentin (I)
David Millar (GB)
Chris Peers (B)
Iñigo Cuesta (Sp)
(Reserve: Frédéric Bessy)
Crédit Agricole Stéphane Augé (F)
Pierrick Fédrigo (F)
Sébastien Hinault (F)
Christophe Moreau (F)
Lilian Jegou (F)
Benoit Poilvet (F)
Thor Hushovd (N)
Stuart O’Grady (Aus)
Jens Voigt (G)
(Reserve: Christopher Jenner)
Sandy Casar (F)
Jimmy Casper (F)
Carlos Da Cruz (F)
Nicolas Fristch (F)
Christophe Mengin (F)
Nicolas Vogondy (F)
Bradley McGee (Aus)
Matthew Wilson (Aus)
(Reserve: Jean-Cyril Robin)
Pierre Bourquenoud (F)
Samuel Dumoulin (F)
Christophe Edaleine (F)
Frédéric Finot (F)
Stéphane Goubert (F)
Patrice Halgand (F)
Laurent Lefevre (F)
Jean-Patrick Nazon (F)
Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr)
(Reserve: Eddy Seigneur)
Klöden extends with Telekom
Andreas Klöden has extended his contract with Team Telekom until 2004, the team announced this week. The 28-year-old German turned pro in 1998 and enjoyed his best season in 2000, when he won he won six races, including Paris-Nice and Tour of the Basque Country.
He was quickly hyped as a rising star with Tour de France potential, but has been mired with injuries and poor form since then. Telekom officials believe Klöden is on the rise and want to keep the promising racer.
“We are pleased that Andreas will continue to race with Telekom,” said team spokesman Olaf Ludwig. “He has enormous potential and now he’s back to top condition.”
Klöden will be among nine riders starting the Tour in the Telekom colors.
Bölts to retire
Veteran German star Udo Bölts has announced he will retire at the end of the 2003 season. The 37-year-old joined Gerolsteiner after many years with Telekom, where he was a steady strong hand for the big tours as well as a rider capable of winning on his own. The three-time national German champion said he’s just not as fast as he used to be.
Bölts won the Clasica San Sebastian in 1996, the Dauphiné Libéré in 1992 and a stage in the Giro d’Italia. He’s raced in 12 Tours (a German record) and will be starting his 13th on Saturday in Paris.
McGee to race track worlds
Australia’s Bradley McGee, fresh off his win in the Tour de Suisse time trial, will race at the world track championships in Stuttgart, Eurosport reported Monday. McGee will be racing for Fdjeux.com at the Tour de France and is hoping he can shine in Saturday’s opening prologue in Paris. Last year’s individual pursuit champion in Copenhagen will compete on the Australian team July 30 to August 3 in Germany at the track worlds.