It’s been called by many names. The Hell of the North, The Queen of the Classics, The Easter Race. To George Hincapie, Paris Roubaix has always been the elusive prize. For 17 seasons, the American cyclist has lined up at the start in the town of Compiègne to begin the 160-some mile race over the centuries-old cobblestones and battered roads of northern France.
Six times Hincapie has placed in the top 10, coming in second in 2005, and has earned the admiration of many in the cycling world as one of the toughest and most-skilled Classic’s racers of his generation.
While winning Paris Roubaix has been Hincapie’s goal since turning pro in 1994, this year he will be backing former world champion and BMC Racing teammate Thor Hushovd of Norway. This does not mean that the 38-year New York City native of Colombian descent will take his job lightly.
“I will be helping Thor out at Roubaix this year,” Hincapie told Fox News Latino. “With Roubaix, you have to be prepared for everything…I work hard to do this, but it's more for me to help out in the race.”
Hard work and a passion for cycling are two things that Hincapie learned growing up in Richmond Hills, Queens from his father, Ricardo.
A Colombian native who immigrated to the United States from his native Medellín, Ricardo grew up in a country that fell in love with the sport as local superstars like Ramón Hoyos and Martín Emilio “Cochise” Rodríguez gained fame for their exploits on the road and track.
When he was 8, Hincapie’s father bought him a Peugeot road bike from the Atlantic City, N.J., bike show, but the young George didn’t immediately take to the sport.
"I was pretty much far from loving cycling when I first started," Hincapie said in a television clip during last year’s Tour de France. "I preferred to do more normal things as a kid, but my dad always encouraged me to go out with him and my brother."
Falling in love with the sport may have been a gradual process, but from an early age Hincapie knew that he had the talent to one day make it to the pros. The atmosphere of the New York City cycling scene helped foster the young racers ambitions and talent.
"Growing up in New York, I was very connected to the cycling community, racing in Central Park and Prospect Park," Hincapie said. "It was very European, very Latin-based. I got pushed along by those people."
After turning pro in 1994, Hincapie joined the famed Motorola squad that also featured a young Lance Armstrong. The two would remain teammates on and off for the next 13 years, with Hincapie being a part of all seven of Armstrong’s Tour de France victories.
Their friendship hit a rocky road last spring when news show 60 Minutes revealed that Hincapie told a grand jury that he and Armstrong supplied each other with endurance-boosting EPO and discussed having used testosterone to prepare for races. Armstrong has adamantly denied ever using performance enhancing drugs and Hincapie has kept quiet about the testimony, but the incident has tarnished their accomplishment at the Tour de France.
Hincapie’s own accomplishment came in the early parts of the season as his tall frame and powerful legs helped him power through the rough terrain of Northern France and Belgium in the Spring Classic races where other cyclists struggle.
"It’s very nervous in the peloton, everyone gets stressed," said Steffen Kjaergaard, Hincapie’s former teammate on the U.S. Postal team in 2001. "He doesn’t get nervous when the peloton gets nervous."
Nicknamed "Big George" by the cycling media, Hincapie is the only American to have won the Ghent-Wevelgem and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne classics.
Along with managing a packed race schedule for the last 19 seasons, Hincapie and his brother, Rich, founded Hincapie Sportswear in 2002.
The company is a family affair and keeps the Hincapie’s connection to Colombia. While headquartered in Hincapie’s adopted hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, all the products are made in the company’s factory in Medellín that is run by his Aunt Marie and Uncle Jorge.
"It’s all family run," Hincapie said. "My family has always been involved in the sport."
With his professional racing career entering its final phase and a profitable company already in the works, Hincapie has his eyes set on the next generation of young cyclists…especially those in Colombia.
"Those young riders have really shown how they can compete with the best racers in the world," Hincapie said. "Just look at what they did last year in the Tour of Utah and the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado."
In the 2011 Tour of Utah, riders from the Colombia team, Gobernación de Antioquia, claimed two of the five stage wins as well as the opening prologue and Colombian Sergio Luis Henao came in second place overall.
Hincapie sees a great deal of talented young riders, both in the United States and in Colombia, that he would like to help head to the pro ranks through his Hincapie Sportswear Under-23 team.
"It’s a team that we can hopefully develop one day into a Pro Tour team."
For now though, with the Spring Classics around the corner, Hincapie is solely focused on Roubaix and the task at hand.
"I need everything to go well," Hincapie said. "I have to be prepared for everything."