“I think he would be happy to help Hushovd in Roubaix.” That was Thor Hushovd’s personal trainer Atle Kvålsvoll talking about the crucial role George Hincapie will play in getting Hushovd his dream win at Paris-Roubaix.
The idea is that Big George, with his extensive experience in the Hell of the North, will be the BMC road captain, keeping Hushovd protected and making the right tactical calls during the race.
That’s a smart scenario and in all likelihood that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Still, Twisted Spoke prefers to imagine a slightly different and far more dramatic scenario.
Picture this: the war of attrition, the cobblestones, the wind and perhaps rain, the relentless pace of the top riders eventually shatters the field. Only a dozen or so riders are left — Hushovd, Hincapie and men like Cancellara, Flecha, Chavanel, Boonen, Leukemans — Hell, just for grins, maybe even Filippo Pozzato makes the final split.
This is when the tension rockets sky high and the stakes are winner take all. Nobody but the true harden and champions left and any mistake now is disaster. Hincapie goes to the front to dial up the misery and torture — who can he drop from this select group?
Hincapie, at age 38, in perhaps his last year, riding his final beloved and bedeviled Paris-Roubaix, is feeling fantastic. He’s flying, the legs turning as powerfully as when he nearly won this queen bitch of a race in 2005.
Hushovd, on the other hand, is going thru a bad patch just at that moment. He’s a force of will and muscle and he’ll fight through — he knows that — and seeing his teammate Hincapie working hard gives him extra confidence. Even Cancellara is suffering and there ain’t no hidden motor to jack the wattage. Frenchman Chavanel is blown out the back never to be seen again.
He can’t help himself — old man George Hincapie opens a gap — nothing deadly but the others are slow to close it down. Call it five seconds, then ten and no more. Jesus, this is a BMC dream scenario: Hincapie is brutalizing everybody while the Norse hammer sits in the wheels and enjoys the view.
Disaster strikes. Hushovd flats or goes down or simply overshoots a corner. He shakes it off and remounts — all is not lost but he’s got major work to do to catch back up. All Hell breaks loose in the BMC team car.
Hincapie is the consummate team plater but Paris-Roubaix, the only race he’s ever cared about, is dropping into his lap. There’s 25k before the famous velodrome, it’s his swan song, a last goodbye, gone forever. Twice he’s just missed the podium — you’d have to go back decades to find a rider who’s suffered more bad luck and heartbreak in the Queen of the Classics
He’s still out front and Cancellara and Boonen aren’t even bothering to put the hammer down. They figure the old man is about cooked and they’ll kill him off shortly.
Hushovd is closing ground, he can see the chase group up ahead when his chain slips. A slew of Norwegian obscenities erupts and that’s the final straw. BANG. Hincapie goes so fast, so hard and so deep that after a minute he panics — he’s going to blow up.
The agony is profound but so is the damage — he steals a look back and suddenly he’s free, cut loose, and the surge of euphoria goes into the pedals.
Cancellara is furious because he’s been here before, marked out of the race, forced to drag Boonen and Flecha along. He sits up, giving them all a disgusted fuck-you. Flecha thinks he’s bluffing and anyway, the Spaniard’s at the limit.
On a tight, slippery corner, Boonen takes a huge risk on an inside line and bursts free. Pozzato and Leukemans argue about who’s got balls and who doesn’t — both too busy to react when Cancellara decides belatedly to drop them.
Hincapie has dreamed of this countdown and it’s almost surreal. He knows these roads so well, knows exactly what’s left in the tank. He’s going to win Paris-Roubaix. That fact is in his bones and he’s buried so deep inside himself that he can feel it. The pain would be staggering but it no longer registers.
Hincapie is crying as he enters the famous velodrome. He can’t help himself because there are too many tears to hold back: tears of joy, redemption, sacrifice, pride, relief and triumph at last.
It’s all a blur of emotions as he takes the final corner in Roubaix. The thunderous roar of the crowd seems to lift his body and bike across the line. He’s mobbed by team personal, journalists, photographers and ecstatic fans.
Hushovd and Cancellara roll across the line together, neither caring who got second and third. There’s only one beautiful chunk of rock and that goes to the winner: George Hincapie from Queens, New York.
“He knows this race inside and out. He knows the game,” said Hushovd trainer Atle Kvålsvoll. Yes, the game plan for BMC at Paris-Roubaix is firmly set. Then again, crazy things happen in the Hell of the North. Just ask Thor Hushovd about Johan Van Summeren.