Just hours after his announcement that he will ride for T-Mobile in 2008 and 2009, George Hincapie sat down with Procycling's Daniel Friebe on Friday to discuss a move which most would have thought inconceivable just a few months ago.
T-Mobile chief Bob Stapleton revealed today that Hincapie had turned down much more lucrative offers from other teams to commit to T-Mobile. So why exactly did the former Paris-Roubaix runner-up cross the great divide from Discovery Channel to their old adversaries T-Mobile? We went straight to Hincapie for the answer:
George Hincapie: I've known Bob [Stapleton] for a while, and he seems like a really good guy, so there was that, plus his vision about where he wants cycling to go. He really sees the big picture and he wants to make this almost like a franchise sport, like formula one in a way, or the NFL, with a much bigger appeal to the mass market. Then there's his vision for cleaning up the sport, which we're very much in agreement about.
BR: There were strong rumours about you making the move quite early in the summer, well before it became clear that Discovery were pulling out. So can you confirm that you'd have left Discovery even if the team had found a new sponsor?
GH: Yeah, I was going to come here anyway. I'd been on what was essentially the same team my whole career and part of me just wanted to see what was out there. At this point of my career, I know that I can still improve and win races, and it's all about motivation for me. I've seen other riders try a new team and, with just a little bit of extra motivation, get much better results. Bob himself and the fact that I really like him were big motivating factors on their own.
BR: Lance Armstrong didn't take too kindly to another of his friends and team-mates, Kevin Livingston, leaving for what was then Telekom in 2001 [Ed. - He compared it to American gulf war general Norman Schwarzkopf "leaving for communist China"]. How did Lance react when he found out that you were making the same move?
GH: He'd known for quite a while. At first he was surprised but he just wants the best for me. He wasn't upset at all; he was fine with it. Obviously he would have wanted me to stay with Discovery but it didn't affect our relationship.
BR: Bob [Stapleton] has been quite shocked by the German media's negative reaction to your arrival at T-Mobile. What's your take on that?
GH: I've been in the sport fifteen years now and I don't think I've ever read anything bad about me. It would be tough if it happened now...But I'm transparent and I have nothing to hide. I'm looking forward to all the new testing that T-Mobile are doing and I'm looking forward to winning races. I don't have anything to hide from the past and I'm just glad to be on a team where's it's all wide open.
People talk about the problems this team's had this year [Patrick Sinkewitz and Lorenzo Bernucci's positive dope tests, Serguei Gonchar's sacking, former team members' admissions of past doping offences], but in every organisation, in every sport, there's going to be some bad apples. And bear in mind that T-Mobile's won 35 races, so it's been a great year in that respect. I'm not going to pay too much attention if some people are determined to portray everything about this sport in a negative light.
BR: So your message is that we should focus on the present and the future?
GH: Absolutely. Bob's message is all about clean and fair sport, and it's great to be a part of that.
BR: Apart from increased testing, what needs to be the basis for a permanent change in the sport?
GH: I think just more unity amongst the riders. If they see something strange going on, or some crazy performance, I think the riders should question it more...But the UCI are finally being a lot more serious about it and they're catching riders. I think if you did the amount of testing we have in cycling in most other sports, you'd get a lot more positive tests. I honestly believe that cycling is one of the cleanest sports and at the cutting edge in terms of testing and trying to clean up the sport. I think you should concentrate on that, and the fact that almost all of the riders are in favour of that.
BR: You mentioned "crazy performances", and there have been some fairly negative things said and written, particularly in France, about you improving your climbing to the extent where you could win mountain stages in the Tour de France...
GH: I don't think it was the French in general. I have a good relationship with the French. Recently I've even been invited to an anti-doping conference organised by the French Ministry of Sports. So, no, I'm not worried about that...
BR: You've signed a two-year contract with T-Mobile. What direction do you envisage your career taking in the next two years, and have you definitely given up your ambitions as a general classification rider in major tours?
GH: I tried to ride for the GC and it's really a different game to when you're pulling for a leader, then going up the last climb at your own pace and letting yourself recover. There's a lot of stress involved in riding for yourself and always trying to stay in the front, day in, day out. I think I'm betted suited to going for individual stages. I really want to win the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, and I really think I can do it.
BR: Finally, just a word on Sunday's race. The consensus seems to be that it's a very difficult course. You've trained on it this morning, so what's your view?
GH: It's tough. The first climb is quite steep. There's no flat and it's all very technical. It's all going to depend on how it's raced. If, say, a four-man break is allowed to go away and a team just rides tempo on the front of the bunch to keep it all under control, there could be 50 or 70 guys left on the last lap. But if the real racing starts halfway through and you have big guys trying to get away with 100 or 150km to go, it's going to be wide open.
BR: What's the ideal scenario for you?
GH: I think I would need to sneak away with two or three laps to go, perhaps not with the favourites, but some strong riders, and I would need the big teams like the Spaniards and Italians to be tired and down to a few men. It's possible, so I'll look to try something like that.
BR: How's your sprinting these days, say in a group of twenty or thirty guys?
GH: It's good. It's an uphill finish, so that changes things, but the form's good. The competition wasn't really tough at the Tour of Missouri but I won pretty easily there and when I've felt like I do now in the past, I've finished second in Paris-Roubaix or third in the Tour of Flanders. I think I'm in that kind of form, but we'll see after 200km. I haven't done a race that long for a while. Overall, though, I'm optimistic.