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Lance Armstrong didn't win a race today, but his best friend did. And so, incidentally, did his worst enemy. News of Filippo Simeoni's solo victory in stage two of the Tour of Quinghai Lake in China reached the Pyrenees at around midday, provoking more than the odd wry grin in the Tour press room. "They show the Tour here live but it's in the middle of the night. I wonder what Lance will say if he wins, too," said Simeoni, who is awaiting the verdict of a 100,000 euro slander case against Armstrong.
Simeoni was denied an answer to his question by George Hincapie, the man whose reinvention as an all-terrain, all-action hero mirrors Armstrong's. Hincapie, the 32-year-old New Yorker formerly best known as a Classics rider, confirmed his conversion today as he pulled out a victory on the hardest stage of this year's Tour which Armstrong would have been proud of. Proud but not envious: asked tonight whether he was worried that he still hadn't won a stage in this year's Tour as the race entered the final week, Armstrong shrugged: "I won't worry if I don't win a stage. The most important thing for me is to be on the top step of the podium in Paris."
Along with team manager Johan Bruyneel, Hincapie is the only ever-present in Armstrong's six triumphant Tour campaigns to date. Bruyneel could scarcely conceal his delight at seeing Hincapie win today.
"It wasn't something we planned," admitted the Discovery Channel boss. "The break went and George decided to get into it. It put us in a really great situation because there were other strong riders in the group and George didn't have to work at all. It couldn't have been a better day. It's a great reward for George's hard work over these six years.
"George has never really been in a position to lead a team in a grand tour but I'm sure that he could do it if he put his mind to it. He could be one of the strongest riders and, if not major tours, I think that he could win one-week stage races."
Armstrong was even more effusive in his praise, drawing a parallel between his friend and. Eddy Merckx.
"Today George did something which no one has done for 20 or 30 years," said Armstrong. "This year, he finished second in Paris-Roubaix, won stages at the Dauphin Libr, he led the bunch over the Galibier in the Tour, and now he's won a mountain stage. No one since Eddy Merckx has done that."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Armstrong paid no such tribute to the winner of Sunday's stage in the Tour of Quinghai Lake.
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