George Hincapie: Blue Collar Hero

Tracy YoungContributor IApril 6, 2009

PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  George Hincapie (R) of the USA and riding for Team High Road is congratulated by teammate Mark Cavendish (L) of Great Britain after Hincapie won Stage 7 of the Amgen Tour of California on February 24, 2008 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

George Hincapie may not conjure up thoughts of yellow jerseys or stuffed lions, but he signifies even more important qualities in pro cycling: teamwork and loyalty.

He has managed to forge the less glamorous aspects of cycling in some inner crucible to create the essence of the best of cycling. Endless hard work and training, sacrifice, and sublimation of that all-powerful motivator: ego.

The word domestique, used to define a team support rider, literally means “servant” and evokes household help more than laureled athlete.

Yet in cycling, the institution of the phrase “super-domestique” has boosted the role’s status closer to that of an all-pro offensive lineman in football.

Hincapie served in this capacity during Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins with Discovery and before that, US Postal, pacing and protecting the team leader, particularly in climbs.

When he led out for Armstrong, there was the sense of the inevitable—if not glory, then dead serious intent. And he rode in support of winner Alberto Contador in 2007.

Invariably referred to as “Big George Hincapie” for his 6’3” height, the 35-year-old has come to define the magnitude and heroic stoicism of being a loyal lieutenant, even at the possible expense of individual wins.

But wins are good, too.

The US champion and five-time Olympian has won his share of races and stages, including in the Tour de France and Dauphiné Libéré. He is a feared short time trialist as well.

He went into this past weekend’s Tour of Flanders as a true contender for his current team, Columbia Highroad. He wound up vying late in the race for a podium spot, only to become collateral damage in a crash approaching the finish.

Team Columbia Highroad is committed to being a leader in clean racing. The team’s members also skew it toward one of the younger pro squads, including explosive sprinter Mark Cavendish.

Hincapie’s experience and leadership will no doubt become invaluable to balance the young talent, which also includes yellow jersey contender Kim Kirchen.

Though Hincapie now resides in South Carolina, he was born in Queens, New York, and credits his weekend family rides in the city for helping to develop his road awareness.

He rides in Paris-Roubaix on April 12, the Tour de Suisse in June, and his 14th Tour de France in July. He is in excellent condition this season, so keep an eye peeled for Big George, hard at work.