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George Hincapie: “We want to be a Pro Continental team in 2015”

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A pro for almost 20 years and a winner of Gent-Wevelgem (the only American to finish first in this Belgian Classic), George Hincapie retired at the end of the 2012 season, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t connected to the world of cycling anymore. On the contrary, he has his own team, Hincapie Sportswear Development, that’s prepared to start its second season with a roster of 14 riders: Miguel Bryon, Chris Butler, Robin Carpenter, Oskar Clark, Jakob King, Joe Lewis, Ty Magner, Philip Martz, Alexander Ray, Joey Rosskopf, Joseph Schmalz, Toms Skujiņš, Dion Smith, and Thomas Wrona.

After a successful first season (with four wins – three in Europe and one in Canada), Hincapie Sportswear Development is ready for a more important year, in which it hopes to be at the start of the Tour of California and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. These are only just  some of steps George Hincapie planned for his team, a bigger goal being to get into the Pro Continental league, so that his riders will get to race against the best cyclists in the world. More details on this ambitious project, in the following interview.

– Mister Hincapie, how are you? What have you been doing since retiring?

I’m doing well. I’ve started focusing a lot more on my clothing company and my cycling team, and also on some other projects we have here in South Carolina. I still enjoy riding my bike and spending time with my family. That’s pretty much what I’ve been up to.

– Was it difficult to cope with your new life after almost two decades in the saddle?

You know what, it wasn’t. Before doing it, I’ve been telling myself that I will retire for five years and every year I just found more enjoyment in riding the bicycle, and I was really fortunate to be part of such teams in which it was really difficult for me to retire. On the other side of things, I was looking forward to retirement a couple of years before I did it.

– One of your projects after retirement is the Continental team, Hincapie Sportswear Development. What made you start this team?

The motivation for me was that I’ve had a lot of help growing up as a cyclist in New York. My parents hadn’t any money and as we know cycling  is very expensive, but from early on I had sponsorship through local bike shops or local businesses that really helped myself and my family getting me to the races and getting the equipment I needed. So I know from personal experience how important is for riders to have something when they start. It’s a passion of mine to try to help the young riders make it to the next level. Our team did amazingly well last year, I was really proud of the guys, and for this season we’re looking to do better and hopefully get into bigger races.

– So you will try to get a wildcard for California and Colorado, right?

Yes, we’re trying very hard at the moment to get the wildcards. Last year we were a young team and maybe we weren’t ready, but this season we’re definitely ready and we proved throughout the season last year that we can race against the the best riders in the US and win on many occasions. I think we are more than ready to do those races.

– Should we expect to see the team also in Europe?

We’re going on the schedule right know, it really all depends on what races we get into in the US. The team went last season for a month in Belgium and if we don’t get into California, then we will look at some European races. What we want is to do some of the bigger races over there and continue to grow the programme to maybe some full time racing in Europe.

– As I see it, on one hand is a good thing for the Tour of California that it’s developing and having more World Tour teams at the start, but on the other hand it’s difficult for smaller teams to get there.

Correct, and that’s funny for me, because as a rider in the teams that I was on, I was always expected to be in the big races, and now I’m fighting on the other side of the fence. It’s a lot of work and I appreciate races like California considering us to be a part of them and we will continue to try to prove that we deserve that invite.

– Do you believe that the Tour of California should be in the World Tour?

I think so, because they get attention, they are very well organized, very professional, and the fans that come out are very enthusiastic. It’s a race that can help globalize the sport and I think it deserves to be there for sure.

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– Coming back to Hincapie Sportswear Development, which of your riders you think can have a great season?

There are several: guys like Ty Magner, Oskar Clark, Joey Rosskopf. Ty is one of the best sprinters in the country, Oskar is probably one of the best all-round riders, as he can climb and time trial, while Joey is probably one of the best time trialers in the country. We just signed Chris Butler, who is also a very good rider. He rode for BMC and now is taking a step back, but I think he needs that sort of thing in his development to just figure out everything that it takes to be successful at pro level. We’re really excited to have him, as well as Toms Skujiņš, Jake King, and Dion Smith, who are also new signings. The whole team is well balanced. I’m missing some of the names, but any one of these riders can win races on their on their day.

– Is there any chance to get some South American riders, especially Colombians?

Absolutely! We looked already for this year, it didn’t work out, but my brother and I have a lot of contacts in Colombia, we are Colombian, and we’re going to start spending some more time there and try to find talents for the team.

– What are the long-term goals for the team? Getting a Pro Continental licence, or even a World Tour one?

These are the goals, but we certainly don’t want to rush into anything. We want to follow all the proper steps in terms of growth and we feel that this season we are ready to do all the major races in the US. Next year we would like to take another step up to the Pro Continental level and start doing some races in Europe, and then get into the World Tour; for sure, that’s the goal.

– One last question: what’s the level of cycling nowadays in the US?

In terms of popularity is much bigger then when I was a child, the sport is very well known here in the US: there are more races, more sponsors, more attention, and more TV coverage of the races. On the other hand, the level in terms of juniors is maybe a little bit less. When I was growing up, there were a lot more juniors in the races. We expanded our junior programme this year, we’re trying to send them in the biggest races in the US, and help develop junior racing. Without a good junior sort of platform in the US it’s going to be hard to continue. Junior racing is very important and we have a big passion for that as well. Any events that we do here in South Carolina we allow junior riders to take part for free. We want to push the message of junior development.

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