Friday, July 6, 2007

Melanie Hincapie - Enjoying The Ride

By: Kim Hassold

Any cycling enthusiast can tell you that July is the month of arguably the world’s best-known cycling road race, a three-week-long event covering a circuit of most areas around France and sometimes neighboring countries. Le Tour de France will take place from July 7 to July 29 and will feature one of our own local favorites, George Hincapie.

Maybe less recognized, yet surely no less intriguing is the woman who will be watching the event with a special interest, George’s wife of three years and a recent convert to our southern way of life, Melanie.

We spent some time getting to know her and found that she feels fortunate to be living in Greenville with George and their young daughter, Julia.

With her charming French accent and beautiful looks, we think you’ll agree we’re the lucky ones… the Upstate is a better place because Melanie Hincapie came along for the ride.

A chance meeting between the two was the start of a wonderful match and, according to Melanie, it all happened in the course of a working day.

“I actually met George at the Tour de France. He was riding for U.S. Postal and I was a presenting model.

“In Paris, we gave medals to all of the riders on the best team for that day, so I gave the medal to George, and the next day he wrote me a note saying he wanted to get to know me.”

Not that doing so would be easy, since at the time, she spoke almost exclusively her native French and he spoke very little of that language.

“We did a lot of our ‘talking’ via text messaging. I would get out a dictionary to try to see what he was saying,” laughs Melanie.

“I was speaking a little of English, and some Spanish, but not much. George’s parents are from Colombia so they raised him speaking Spanish. With my little bit of English and Spanish, and his little bit of French, we made it work.”

As for Julia, she speaks French with her mother, English with her father, and Spanish with her grandparents.

Moving to another country sounds like an exciting adventure, but it is not without some trials in the adjustment period. Melanie says that one of her favorite stories involves the family dog and the well-meaning offer of a new friend to walk the pet while the Hincapies settled in.

“I didn’t understand why this stranger was taking my dog and kept saying ‘No!’ until George finally helped me understand that she was only trying to help. The language barrier is much less for me now but, at first, I misunderstood a lot.”

So what is it like to be the wife of a professional athlete, and how does a spouse deal with watching someone she loves compete at such an intense level?

“The great thing about being married to an athlete is that we get to see the world and travel a lot. My child is growing up with different cultures and languages, so it’s a positive for her. We also have friends all over the world. On the other hand, George and I do spend a lot of time apart, and we have no routine in our lives. It can be hard to plan things because George’s schedule changes all of the time.”

Melanie says she worries a lot when her husband races, but much more when she is not there and watches him race on television.

“I don’t go to all races, but I do go to some. It’s always stressful to watch him race, I just want him to be safe and do well, because I know how hard he works for that. My family is also very proud and supportive of George. The Tour de France is three long, hard weeks. My family doesn’t miss one stage on TV — watching every single day.”

Being so far away from family most of the year is hard for the Hincapies, but Melanie says that Greenville has become her “home away from home” now.

“It’s another tough thing about being married to a professional athlete that I am so far away from my family. It’s very hard for them to only see me twice a year, and much more for me. I am a French woman, who loves her country, but I feel America, Greenville, is home now. I consider myself lucky to be part of both countries.”

The Hincapies frequently enjoy our downtown life, a pastime they both enjoy.

“We love to eat downtown, especially High Cotton and Soby’s, along with a lot of other restaurants. Falls Park is so pretty and relaxing with the waterfalls. Everyone in Greenville has welcomed us as part of the city and they are very supportive of George. The city even had a parade for him in 2005 to celebrate his stage win in the Tour de France when we came back from Europe.”

With George Hincapie planning to develop Pla d’Adet, a performance training village in the Upstate in the near future, we are bound to see more of the Hincapie family around here. According to Melanie, it’s a place she would recommend to anyone.

“Greenville is a beautiful place with wonderful people. It’s a great place to raise a family, the parks are beautiful and the weather is always nice.”

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