American cycling will have to part with George Hincapie soon, following his announcement today that this season will be his last in the pro peloton. Hincapie's retirement will bring to a close the riding phase of one of the more remarkable careers the sport has seen. Coming from the unlikely cycling address of New York City, Hincapie's Colombian father introduced him to the bicycle early on, and at just the right time, as young Hincapie caught on to the Motorola team, the extension of Team 7-Eleven, and rode their rise into a career in Europe. Hincapie has left several marks on the sport:
- As a sprinter early on, Hincapie won his share of races early on in Europe, with a special penchant for success at the Tour of Luxembourg (twice points comp winner, two stage sprints).
- Once he built up his strength and experience in the Northern Classics, he became America's first true specialist on the cobbles. He is the first (and so far only) American to win Gent-Wevelgem. His second in Paris-Roubaix and third in the Tour of Flanders are both high-water marks for his countrymen. His win in the GP Ouest-France, a summer classic, is also an American first of great distinction.
- By 1999, his team began to build itself up around Lance Armstrong, and Hincapie in turn developed a reputation for being one of the world's best domestiques. His current resume includes shepherding nine Tour de France winners around, a record that speaks to his ability regarding the subtleties of the sport -- keeping your captain positioned and out of trouble -- as well as his ability to execute the team's grind-em-down strategy.
- As his career went on, with Hincapie jumping to the T-Mobile/High Road/Columbia outfit and then to his current BMC squad (where he is reunited with Jim Ochowitz, his first manager at Motorola), it occurred to observers that he was closing in on an impressive list of career records. At present, he is tied for the record of most Tour de France starts (16) and finishes (15). He owns the record for most finishes in the Tour of Flanders (17), set this year. He's among the leaders in finishes in his beloved Paris-Roubaix (I count 14; CN says 17 but I think that's starts).
- He has his own clothing company, which will be his main focus after he stops riding, and he has been instrumental in the expansion of the BMC team from a continental outfit to a powerhouse. Whether he will continue in a team management role is not apparent.
His pursuit of a monument win fell short, but in every other respect Hincapie has had a truly remarkable career. Chapeau George!