During his 19-year professional career Hincapie was regarded as the premier American classics rider of his generation. He competed in a record 17 Ronde van Vlaanderen races and finished second at the grueling Paris-Roubaix, the best ever for any American. Beyond the classics he rode in the Tour de France 17 times and won three US National Road Race championships.
And he's hot. (That's not from the website. That's from me).
At the end of February, I was already heading to the Los Angeles area for a week of cycling in the Santa Monica mountains, with AdventureCorps (details reserved for Part 2 of this posting).
Coincidentally, the Saturday I arrive in LA/Westlake Village there's a Gran Fondo in the area (won't be there in time for it) and a Time Trial on Sunday.
Dave is ready to explode trying to reach me with this news on my last day of work before a weeklong vacation: George Hincapie is hosting these events, staying at our hotel, making an appearance at a pre-race wine and cheese reception. Want in?
Stupid excited and with an uncharacteristic bit of bravado, I posted to Facebook a photo of me from last year's Tour of the Valley TT. I wrote in the description 'Better watch out, George Hincapie. I'm coming to get you." And then I tagged him in the photo. And then I got a bunch of likes from my Facebook friends. And then I got a 'like' from George Hincapie.
Holy smoke! Did I really just challenge a 17 time TdF pro in an amateur race? Always finding new ways to get myself in trouble.
Saturday: Arrived in Westlake Village in the afternoon. Put our bikes together (they were shipped from Cleveland a week ago). Reconnect with long-time AdventureCorps friends, and then, off to the Stonehaus wine bar!
Registration table: His bike is parked in front, fresh (?) from the day's Gran Fondo. BIG bike, nameplate on the top tube. I'm in awe. Where's GH? Not here yet, but I sense his presence.
Registration list: I see my name on the start list, 8:30. I'm starting 6 minutes behind George Hincapie! How cool is it to see your name on the same list as your favorite pro rider?
What will I say to him when I meet him? "Hi, George. I'm Pam. I'm the one who dropped the gauntlet on you on Facebook, remember?" I need liquid courage.
He walks in, people flock to him like iron shavings to a magnet. I'm patient, waiting for my moment. I wait for one overly-eager guest to start in on day 6 of his entire life's story, then I cut in. Introduce myself, name drop (turns out we have a friend in common). Photo op. Wonder if he remembers my challenge to him. Decide not to go there.
Sunday morning: Jill and Tim go with us to the TT start, in Malibu. The race is 20K, a one way all-out along the Pacific Coast Highway. Awesome. Crazy awesome.
PCH is not exactly Deerfield. It's not a road you can warm up on, because it's 4 lanes of wanna-be race car drivers. I find a short climb nearby, go up and down that a few times before remembering that I should probably not stress too much about this race. This is for fun. I don't even have a proper TT bike - just my good ol' workhorse Bianchi with the added-on climbing cogset and the 25 mm tires. Perfect for the long rides and steep climbs ahead, not ideal but perfectly fine for this TT. I go to the line early.
Tim and Jill are watching riders take off. They're watching Dave and I fiddle with our bib numbers. They're watching George Hincapie sidle up to the start line, stop next to me, and, as Tim would later recount, 'chat like they're old friends' (you have to imagine this in a Minnesota accent).
(Dave says Tim was jealous. No worries, Tim, you know who's still my favorite person of all time to ride with.)
Last thing I said to George before he went to the start line:
"You know I'm only 6 minutes behind you."