x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hincapie's happy to help

George Hincapie is best known as Lance Armstrong's closest friend in cycling and the only constant in Armstrong's seven Tour de France wins.

The Team Columbia rider George Hincapie in action during this year's Tour de France. The American is hoping to claim a stage victory before the end of the Tour on Sunday.
The Team Columbia rider George Hincapie in action during this year's Tour de France. The American is hoping to claim a stage victory before the end of the Tour on Sunday.

CUNEO // George Hincapie is best known as Lance Armstrong's closest friend in cycling and the only constant in Armstrong's seven Tour de France wins. Hincapie acted as the Texan's chief lieutenant throughout the flat stages of the Tour and on the less harsh climbs and, his motto throughout the campaigns was simply "to protect Lance".

But while Armstrong has long since retired, Hincapie, 35, is still going strong and, having moved from the Discovery Channel team to Team Columbia, he is having something of an Indian summer. Already this season he has managed stage wins at the Tour of California and the Dauphine Libere, and the New York-born racer is targeting another win in the final week of the Tour de France. He said: "I still want to win a stage although time is running out. It is difficult to predict when I'm going to be in shape to go for a win, but the final two Alpine stages are ones I could go for."

At Team Columbia this year, Hincapie's personal gains have been put on hold working for teammate Kim Kirchen earlier in the race and as part of the team train for sprinter Mark Cavendish. But Hincapie says he is happy to do the behind-the-scenes work. "My job first is to work for the team and you can't help but work well for someone like Cav [Cavendish]," he said. "The guy's so powerful - maybe the best sprinter I've ever seen."

There is a 12-year age gap between the teammates and Hincapie appears to be relishing the role of father figure and elder statesman at this year's Tour. "I don't feel old," he said. "But, yeah, the guys do turn to me for advice on stuff and hopefully some of what I say helps. I'm an old guy in the saddle so I've seen most of what there is to see so hopefully some of that brushes off." Hincapie, who will compete for the United States at next month's Olympics, knows he will forever be remembered as Armstrong's lieutenant, a tag he's more than happy with.

"Why wouldn't I be?" he added. "We won seven Tours together." As for contact during the race with Armstrong, Hincapie admits there's been some. "We text and talk," said Hincapie, who is riding his 13th Tour this year, "but it's not usually about cycling. "Lance has moved on to other things and it's nice to talk about something else anyway." As for that unlucky 13, Hincapie's not the superstitious kind.

While other riders like Fabian Cancellara and Markus Fothen - rider numbers 13 and 113 respectively - have been wearing the numbers upside down throughout the race, Hincapie has done nothing of the kind. "I'm a positive guy so I'm hoping it's a lucky 13 for me," he said. @Email:sports@thenational.ae