George Hincapie to retire in August after breaking Tour de France appearance record, final race will be USA Pro Cycling Challenge
US rider who has helped team mates win maillot jaune nine times will remain involved in sport through his clothing business
George Hincapie, who at the end of this month is due to become the sole holder of the record number of appearances in the Tour de France – one he currently holds jointly with Joop Zoetemelk – has announced that he will retire after the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in August.
This year’s race starts in Liege on 30 June, the day after Hincapie’s 39th birthday, and will mark his 17th participation in the Tour, a race he’s only failed to finish once, and one which has been life changing off the bike too – he met his wife, Melanie, when she was working as a podium girl.
“This is definitely not a decision that has been easy," reflected Hincapie. "I came to the conclusion that I want to go out while I can still contribute and make a difference.
“To be able to compete for 19 years as a professional cyclist has been something I would have never dreamed of doing. But at the same time, it's also going to be good to spend more time with my kids, who are getting to be the age where they miss me when I'm gone."
Last year, the rider born to Colombian parents in Queens, New York City, helped BMC Racing team mate Evans win the maillot jaune, the ninth time that one of his colleagues has stood on top of the podium in Paris, the others being Lance Armstrong on each of his seven victories from 1999 to 2005, and Alberto Contador in 2007.
Speaking of Hincapie’s impending retirement, Evans said: “"I'm hoping that he'll change his mind, probably like many other cycling fans around the world will do when they hear the news,” reflecting his status as one of the most popular riders in the peloton.
“George is incredible. He's the core of the BMC Racing Team and not just on the road as a captain, but also in the structure of the team,” added Evans.
“He's a part of so many aspects of everything we do because of his tremendous leadership."
The defending Tour de France champion said he wished for nothing better than for Hincapie to lead him onto the Champs-Élysées next month on his way to a successful defence of his Tour de France title.
"It's a dream at this point, but it's a dream that I'd like to deliver to George to thank him for all the sacrifices he's made for me over the past few years," he added.
Hincapie himself, who won Stage 15 of the 2005 Tour de France stage wins to his name, got to wear the coveted jersey the following year when he picked up bonus seconds on Stage 1 at an intermediate sprint after finishing second to Thor Hushovd in the previous day’s prologue.
Controversially, he was denied the chance to wear it again in the 2009 Tour when Garmin-Slipstream rode hard to try and chase down a break Hincapie was in, the then Columbia-HTC rider finishing the day second on GC, five seconds behind the race leader.
Once considered a potential GC contender in his own right, ‘Big George’ – he stands six foot three inches – excelled above all in the cobbled Classics and this year set new appearance records for both the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix.
He’d have loved one of the shower cubicles at the famous velodrome where the latter race ends to have borne his name, the customary accolade awarded to winners of the Queen of the Classics, but the closest he came was in 2005, when he came second, and he regularly figured in the top ten in that race and the Tour of Flanders, where his best finish was third in 2006.
He did however win Gent-Wevelgem in 2001 and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2005, and also took the US national championships on three separate occasions and has competed in the Olympic Games five times.
Last year, he was in the headlines when a CBS 60 Minutes show in which Tyler Hamilton made doping allegations against Armstrong and the former US Postal Service team, building on those previously made by Floyd Landis, claimed that Hincapie had told investigators that he and Armstrong had supplied each other with doping products.
Hincapie in reply said that he had not spoken to the makers of the programme and was unaware where they had obtained the information, but made no further comment.
That Federal Grand Jury investigation was shelved earlier this year, but the US Anti-Doping Agency is pressing ahead with its own enquiry.
Leaving aside that issue, Hincapie says he plans to stay involved in the sport, and indeed the business he founded supplies BMC Racing’s own kit.
"I don't want to get completely out of cycling," he revealed. "My company, Hincapie Sportswear, obviously revolves around cycling. So I want to see it grow while putting in more time with the people I love.
“But also know that I'm still feeling strong and healthy and ready to make a contribution to the team these last two months. I'm 100 per cent motivated to help Cadel win another Tour."
Hincapie has in the past regularly been singled out for praise by the team mates he has helped ride to success, whether that be Armstrong, Evans or former High Road colleague Mark Cavedish, and another person who rode alongside him in the past, BMC team president Jim Ochowicz, also highlighted his contribution to the outfit.
"George was the first big rider to believe in the BMC Racing Team," he said. "He's led us through the past three years of the Classics and grand tour seasons as
both a leader and a teammate.
“I am very proud that he was able to start as a professional with me on the Motorola team in 1994 and that I'm still with him at the end of his career.
“It's been an honour to bookend the career of one of the nicest people and one of the greatest cyclists America has ever produced."