I’m not sure that any American racer has displayed the passion and love for the Pave like George has. He’s made it cool for a whole generation of young (American) cyclists to aspire to being more than a Grand Tour rider, and frankly in my books that is no bad thing.
The question is, and a one frequently asked, will George ever win Roubaix or the Ronde? He has had some close calls, his best possible chances have been in Roubaix, and there have been a few. I still think that 2002 could rightly claim the spot for the ride where he could have won. Museeuw was away, George was chasing with a team mate who was a similar height and this made identification difficult for the commentators. Slowly they where clawing back kilometres and time towards the lone escapee. Suddenly on a cobbled section George fell into a ditch, apparently suffering with ‘the knock’. It was pretty cold and damp that day and obviously the effects of chasing hard to get back to him had taken there toll. Oh and the Team mate was a 22 year old Tom Boonen who started the race as another promising Belgian talent, but ended up with him becoming one of the Cobble masters, winning Roubaix three times. A move to Quick Step soon followed and the rest is recent history. On that day Boonen finished third and Hincapie sixth.
George’s best placing in Roubaix was a second in 2005, when Tom won his first of three (so far) Roubaix victories. Tom did the double having won Flanders the weekend before and was on fine form. It finished in a sprint which there was only ever going to be one winner.
Watching this small clip from this years Ronde van Vlaanderen shows how much he is at ease on the stones.
But George’s palmares are not blank when it comes to winning on the pave. Winning Gent-Wevelgem in 2001 and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2005 would rank highly on many professionals lists, but you get the sense with Hincapie these, although important, are not the reasons he gets up in the morning to train.
George’s highest placing in Flanders came in 2006 when he bagged a third behind Boonen (yep him again) in first and Leif Hoste in second. From the consistent placings over the years George knows he has the right stuff to be a winner, he’s just had some bad luck (think 06 with the broken fork in Roubaix a week later) which has been the difference between the second step and first.
I’d like for George to win it once, and if it could be awarded for the never give up mantra, he should get it. This year both at Roubaix and Flanders he didn’t have a chance against Cancellara as he was truly stunning. So back to the question, ‘Will George ever win Flanders or the Roubaix’
well I’d have to say No as the other guys around him are stronger and younger, but you can never really say never until he hangs up his wheels. George has that ability to make adults believe in Father Christmas again, but I fear that the cold reality that its not going to happen is creeping up on any die hard Hincapie fan. George comes over as a nice guy, and for once it’d be great to see the nice guy not finish last (well 2nd 3rd or whatever, but you get my point), but to see him aloft the top step.