Monday, June 29, 2009

Columbia-High Road Corner: It's Almost Here

By George Hincapie

George Hincapie is nothing less than a living legend in American cycling. A great classics rider, Hincapie also holds the honor of being the only teammate to accompany Lance Armstrong to all seven of his Tour de France victories. The mild-mannered, always amiable Hincapie is the captain of the Columbia-High Road team. The 2009 Tour de France will be his 14th. A versatile rider, he will make his presence know throughout the race, supporting team leaders in both the sprints as well as the mountains. And in between, he hopes to win his second individual stage in the world's greatest bike race.

This is my 14th Tour de France and all I can say is, boy, do I feel like I'm getting old! Really though, the Tour is something that just never gets old for me. And it's something I never take for granted. As a kid growing up in Queens I dreamed of doing the Tour just once, maybe twice. So to be here 14 years now is really special.

Now we're just one week away. What does that mean? For one, the work is done. It's time to relax and try to rest up a bit. We had a hard training camp in early June and then I raced the Tour of Switzerland, so now I just need to take it easy so I can be fresh. I'll probably take a long ride this weekend, but the next couple of days are also the last chance I have to enjoy being home with my family. So, to be honest, I haven't been thinking much about the Tour de France. I know I'll have plenty of time to do that once I get there.

This year, my role on the team is really multi-faceted. I will be helping lead out our sprinter, Mark Cavendish, for the sprint stages. If I'm good, I'll help out the guys riding for overall in the mountains. And then, of course, I would love to win another stage.

That's a lot, but I know what I can do. In the sprints, we normally try to have Mark Renshaw be the last guy on the leadout train before Cavendish makes his final sprint because, frankly, he's the best leadout guy in the world. But as much as you try to plan things out, everything happens so fast in a sprint that you've always got to be ready to improvise. That happened in the Tour of Switzerland and I had no problem jumping in and giving the final leadout.

Then in the mountains I hope to help Kim Kirchen. He's our designated leader. You never know what to expect from Kim, but he could easily be in the top five. He had such a great Tour last year, winning both the green and yellow jersey in the first week. This year he crashed badly early in the season so he had a quiet spring. As a result, however, he's actually riding strongly right now. He was strong in the training camp in the Pyrenees and then he just won a stage in the Tour of Switzerland. (And that was a hard hilly stage, let me tell you.)

So I know I have to ready to be there for him. I know if I am riding well I can hang with, say, the last 30 riders in the mountains. And that can mean a lot for your leader--I can bring him water bottles or pace him a bit. And if he's having a bad day then I need to be with him to help pace him and cut his losses.

Of course, I hope to be able to win a stage for myself. I like the stages in the Pyrenees, but there are also a lot of hard stages just after the high mountains. I like the last time trial in Annecy as well.

What am I expecting in this Tour? Well, this year has all the makings for a great Tour. On paper, Astana is the team to beat. But they are going to have lots of competition. Cadel Evans is going well as is Denis Menchov and the Schleck brothers.

I think this is going to be a very tight Tour all the way to the end. It's got to be when the next-to-the-last stage is the Mont Ventoux. I mean, anyone could go into the Mont Ventoux with a two- to three-minute lead and lose it on that climb. That's how hard it is.

But like I said, we'll have enough time to talk about the Tour once we get there. Right now I've got to take my daughter, Julia Paris, to school. We were in the States a lot this spring so she missed a lot of school here in Spain. As a result she'll be taking summer school.

For me though, my summer school will be the Tour.

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