George Hincapie (BMC Racing) started the Tour de France for the 17th time today in Liège, Belgium, a record in the race's history. The American first started the race in 1996 and at 39 years old, marked his last participation, as he's set to retire this year.
"It's been a tough decision and a lot of people were shocked, but at the same time it's been 19 years. There's probably a handful of guys who've done 19 years in any sport, that's a long time to do anything," Hincapie explained.
"Even though, it's been really tough, there's a bunch of emotion. I'm excited. I'm scared for how my daily life is going to be. Now all I have to focus on is riding my bike, being fit and going as fast as possible, where that will completely change soon."
Hincapie turned professional in 1994 with team Motorola. He helped Lance Armstrong and Cadel Evans win the Tour, and led Mark Cavendish in the sprints. Only once, his debut year, did he fail to finish the race. He abandoned two weeks in after crashing and cutting his head.
In the last three years, he's participated with BMC Racing. He helped Evans win the race last year. The team selected him to do so again this year and to make a bit of history and awarded him with a special Lucky Seventeen bike on the day of his birthday yesterday at a press conference.
In the last 16 editions, he helped win three team time trials and won a stage for himself in 2005, the mountain stage to Pla d'Adet.
"There were close calls when I almost pulled off stage wins. In 2006, I lost the prologue by a 100th of a second, that's one corner or one thing wrong. I always joke about it with Thor Hushovd, who's my team-mate now and just tell him I'm still really mad at him for beating me."
Hincapie will retire later this season and focus on his clothing company, which supplies BMC Racing's kit. Perhaps his only distraction will be an on-going doping investigation centred on Armstrong. Hincapie is rumoured to have given testimony about his and Armstrong's alleged doping. Overnight, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) officially charged Armstrong and a hearing may take place this autumn.
Now, however, his focus is on the Tour de France.
"Any time you roll into the Champs-Élysées is special no matter where you are, no matter how you finished, no matter if your team is winning or not," Hincapie said. "It's such a hard race. People don't understand what each and every rider goes through just to get there. Just to ride on the Champs is special."
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour 2012: Who will win?
Tour de France 2012 provisional start list
Tour de France 2012 team list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
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Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
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