US rider on track to set TdF record
George Hincapie is the last American to wear the yellow jersey, and is about to accomplish something that no other rider has: start his 17th Tour de France.
The 39-year-old rider has played a key role in nine Tours during 19-year career, including in all the seven races Lance Armstrong had won.
On Saturday, when this year's race starts in Belgium, the six-foot-three New Yorker will start the campaign to help defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia keep the yellow jersey they won together last year with the BMC Racing team.
If he rides into Paris July 22 when the race ends, Hincapie will have finished 16 Tours, leveling the record, set by Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, who finished the last of his 16 Tours in 1986.
To put that into perspective, the 16 Tours plus the 14 stages Hincapie finished in 1996, amount to nearly 60 000 kilometres of cycling around France - or one-and-a-halftimes around the Earth.
While riding onto the Paris' Champs Elysees after three weeks of mountain climbs and speedy dissents around France, and beyond, is one Hincapie's favorite career memories, he said finishing the Tour is never easy.
"It's such a hard race. People don't understand what riders go through in three weeks of the Tour de France," Hincapie said. "There's so much suffering and pain involved that getting to the Champs is always a special moment."
The five-time Olympian will not compete in the London Games next month, but will likely ride the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August before retiring from the sport in autumn.
"I came to the conclusion that I want to go out while I can still contribute and make a difference," Hincapie said earlier this month when he talked about his plans to retire.
Hincapie became professional rider in 1994. He has raced his first Tour in 1996 - the only time he failed to complete the race.
It's the first stage of his eighth Tour, in 2003, that is special for Hincapie because he met his wife, a Tour de France podium girl at the time.
"The Tour's brought me everything, my wife, my kids, my name, everything," Hincapie said.
Hincapie was Armstrong's longtime aide during the mountain stages of the Tour, helping him win each of his seven titles. He also helped Alberto Contador win the Tour in 2007 and was key in Cadel Evans' win last summer.
While he's most well known for being a faithful servant to other riders - in cycling, the term is gregario - Hincapie has quite a few personal achievements.
He wore the yellow jersey for one stage during the 2006 Tour, making him the last American to have that honor.
He's won a stage in the Tour de France, and has been a constant threat in cycling's spring classics, winning Gent-Wevelgem in 2001 and finishing second at Paris-Roubaix in 2005. He's also won Three Days of De Panne and the Tour of Missouri during nearly two decades of racing.
Hincapie won national road race titles in 1998, 2006 and 2009.