DINNER WITH MR. HINCAPIE

What a coup!  The Tour of Missouri ends and our hearty bike troupe has the good fortune – courtesy of our shop’s relationship with Hincapie Apparel – to have the company reps come by and have dinner with us at an Irish pub/restaurant in St. Louis’ ever-trendy Central West End. 

Oh yeah, and we’re told in advance there’s a chance Mr. Hincapie might make a personal appearance.  Nothing firm, of course, since he’ll have just finished his race and will need to clear out of his hotel for the bus-ride to South Carolina and so on.

And Mr. Hincapie appears!  

And he’s chatty, and he’s gracious and full of stories, and yours truly corners him quickly, and we share thoughts and insights about the Hincapie family, the family businesses, bike racing, Lance’s return, life in the Carolinas, the “Hincapie World” sports and recreation complex, his kids, and his grand-kids.

Yeah, about that grand-kids comment, let me explain that this isn’t one of those Sarah Palin my-babies-is-having-babies! moments.

See, we arrived at Dressler’s Pub just a few miles from the downtown circuit of the final stage of the Tour of Missouri at six last Sunday evening and the race had ended just hours before.   

Someone (okay, Francesco Chicci from Leakygas) had only hours earlier won the final day’s Hurricane Ike-shortened stage by edging out Mark Caven-dash in yet another sprint finish.  Poor Dasher had to sulk home with only three stage wins.  Keep in mind there were only seven stages, so he won almost half of them in a testament to his own sprinting prowess, the strength of his lead-out team, and the clear need for the Tour of Missouri to mix in some more interesting terrain. 

In all, the Hincapie/Cavendash-piloted Team Columbia won four of the seven stages and the team GC.  George Hincapie, last year’s GC winner, finished fourth overall.

Of course, as we’d proactively and omnisciently reported four days earlier (see:  http://www.bicycle.net/2008/sundays-news-today-vande-velde-wins-tour-of-missouri), American-cycling’s man of 2008, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Chipotle), stayed atop the General Classification, having decisively won earlier in the week the Branson individual time trial stage that HAS very interesting geographic features — like climbing, lots and lots of leg-charring climbing.  

To say Vande Velde completely dominated the grueling Branson ITT and made all other racers seem as if they’d worn skirts that day would be fair, if not politically correct, but there’s no way to put lipstick on that pig, right?

But I digress.

We enter Dresslers and caramel-colored pints appear in our hands as if by magic.  Good moods quickly get even better and we schmooze and talk about you know what.  The evening is particularly good-natured, with road-racers mixing effortlessly with tri-guys and gals, and I suspect there were even a few runners about.  

After a bit, the good people who own our local shop and favorite gathering spot (excluding those that serve beer), Ghisallo Cycling, welcome in the Hincapie crew including two of their U.S. headquarters marketing executives, and yes, Mr. Hincapie himself.

Ricardo Hincapie, that is.  George’s father.

The Hincapie entourage is led around and they shake hands, and soon we all settle into a buffet dinner, but conspicuously the Hincapie crew is left to a table largely by themselves, with only one of “us” among them.  Clearly, not everybody is so comfortable mixing in with strangers.  

I consider breaking away from my group and gapping up to the Hincapie table, but all the seats are occupied.  I tuck back into my dinner.  

A few minutes later I spot an empty slot at their table, and a half-full pint-glass resting there suggests it hasn’t been unoccupied long, and might not remain that way.  It doesn’t escape my attention that the opening happens to be beside Mr. Hincapie, and I decide that’s sufficient reason to poach someone’s seat while they’re back at the feedzone.  

The key will be to hold the seat once I lodge myself in it.

So I scurry across the room and insert myself in this group, extend my hand, and begin my interrogation of the unassuming Mr. Hincapie.  

As he speaks, I lean in close so that I can hear over the general rumble of conversations taking place around the room — but really it’s so there’s no way I’d be able to take note of anyone trying to get my attention to kindly ask for their seat back.  I place my pint glass on the table and hand the abandoned one to the waitress as she passes, thereby taking legal title to this spot.  Check the rulebook, it’s in there.  

Before sharing with you the insights I gained by monopolizing Mr. Hincapie’s evening literally until the moment their party made their exit from the, uh, party, I need to comment about what you get when you meet Mr. Ricardo Hincapie:  Quite simply, Ricardo (we’re on a first name basis ) is a true gentleman and a pleasure to spend time with.  It was kind of like spending time catching up with my dad, but with the added benefit that I hadn’t heard these particular stories a thousand times. 

Ricardo is very enthusiastic about the endeavors both his boys are involved in, but also seems equally proud of his non-cycling-biz-employed daughter.  [How generous is that?  I've got a daughter, and I just don't think I could be so impartial.]  As a former bicycle racer himself, he clearly continues to love the sport, and as a retiree, he now has almost as much time to enjoy it as those of us who write for cycling e-zines for our daily sustenance.  [Pass the ketchup packets, by the way, we're making soup tonight.]

Most importantly, for my purposes, anyway, Ricardo doesn’t seem afflicted by the natural shyness that is part of George’s DNA.  And he’s a lot easier to corner for a long conversation without having to brush-off hoards of others who want a moment of the man’s time.  For my interests, a mano-a-mano with Hincapie senior seemed far more enticing than the prospect of a couple quick questions to and some even-shorter answers from Hincapie junior.  

If you want that interview, just surf over to Cyclingnews and we’ll see you back here in about two minutes.

They say, “To understand a man, you have to understand where he comes from.”  [In St. Louis, we adapt this slightly, to say ...which high school he comes from.  Can't fathom why.]  Anyway, Ricardo Hincapie grew up in Colombia.  For those geographically-handicapped among us, it’s about a four hour flight due south from Miami, more or less.  We St. Louisans would think of Colombia as the Gateway to South America.  We would also think they should have a big shiny Arch at the border with Panama.  And if they want a football team, we’ll comp them the Rams.

But I digress.

For the past many years Ricardo Hincapie has been a resident of New York, where he worked for United Airlines.  When 911 occurred, he took an early-retirement package that seemed enticing until some months later when the carrier filed chapter 11 and wiped out those promises.  Ricardo doesn’t seem angry about it, so much as disappointed.  Who can blame him.  In any case, I got the sense the man didn’t carry grudges.  He smiled constantly and energetically, and you could see in his eyes he’s too “centered” about what’s truly important in life.  A bit zen-like, if you ask me.

Anyway, Ricardo moved to the Carolinas two years ago to be near family.  He sold his New York home and bought one just down the street from his two boys, George and Rich, and was very pleasantly surprised at how much further a dollar goes down south.  Now he lives within an easy spin of most of his seven grandchildren, aside from the two his daughter has back up in New York, and also lives in one of the best cycling areas in the U.S., which he values.  

The family also owns a home down in Colombia.  Ricardo told me he’d selected it with a specific eye to the riding opportunities in the area, and described how he likes to take on the six-mile climb that starts at his doorstep and touches grades of up to 20%.  At that point, my mind began to spin with thoughts of how to politely decline going on such ride with the Hincapies if such invitation is forthcoming.   [I'm still nervous about it, even though we didn't exchange contact information.]

I asked Senor Hincapie what he rides, and he mentioned a Trek, a brand-new Giant (Team Columbia’s chosen steed) he got from George, and a “Hincapie.”  Yes, there’s a Hincapie bike made by a custom bike-maker.  Something like four of those bikes exist.  And wouldn’t your club like one of those to raffle off?  According to his father, George says the Giant is the best bike he’s ever ridden, by the way.  With Columbia switching bikes in 2009, time will tell whether Scott can produce something even better.

Son Rich runs the family clothing business, with eight headquarters employees in South Carolina, and about one hundred employees down in Colombia who assemble the high-quality cycling gear that most of us own.  There is also production done in Italy, but on a much smaller scale.  The business, under Rich’s guidance, is focused on quality & finish, which is something most cyclists understand. You can buy cheaper, but it’s hard to find better. 

Ricardo says that Rich runs most of the businesses under the Hincapie brand, since George “has a job.”  That he does.  And his job involves residing in Girona, Spain for about half the year, usually departing with his family from their South Carolina home after the Tour of California in February, and then packing up to come back to the States for the Tour of Missouri.  

I asked Ricardo how George is enjoying being on Team Columbia, and he said George is very happy.  George has the team-leader and elder-statesman roles on the team, and both the men’s & women’s squads are having a spectacular year.  They’re also quite happy to have secured the Columbia outdoor gear and clothing company as their sponsor this year, and to have given the sponsor a great experience in return. 

Then I brought up Lance.

Ricardo told me George had gotten a call a couple of months ago.  Lance said he’d decided to get back into the sport, and was making preparations.  Lance asked George to think about joining him, but George said he still had another year of commitment to Columbia, so it would be a non-starter.  

I suspect – not based on anything Ricardo said or implied – that George is also having too much fun in his current role to give much consideration joining the Lance-circus as number-one clown.  

Ricardo said he had no insider knowledge about whether Lance would join Astana, but he thought it would certainly be awkward asking Alberto Contador, the young, charismatic Alberto who just won the Tours de France, Italy and Spain back to back, to go back to fetching bottles.  Especially because he might be off the front of the pack at the time.  But he thought it equally improbable to expect Lance to chase down breakaways on behalf of Contador or anyone else in the Tour.  We wrote about this recently (see, http://www.bicycle.net/2008/armstrong-back-landis-backnow-youre-talking), for what it’s worth.  

Lance has recently made statements acknowledging that Contador is the “best climber in the world today” — but notably Lance has not called Contador the world’s best rider or the best stage-racer, or what have you.  We think Lance give himself the nod on those titles, notwithstanding that it’s been a while since he won a road race.

When pressed, and with a suspicious twinkle in his eye, Ricardo said we’ll all have to wait for Lance’s official announcement next week as to whether Lance goes to Astana or not.  Either he knew something he wasn’t saying, or the beer was having its effect — although we don’t recall the man actually drinking any.  

Either way, he left yours truly with the sense that there was a plausible chance Lance just might act perfectly Lance-like, and announce he’s cobbled together a team just to serve his needs, rather than trying to re-craft Astana for those purposes.  It would also seem Lance-like, if he announces he’s bought the country of Kazakhstan and therefore he owns Astana, as well. 

But. But. But.   But what if somehow Lance does reemerge with a team other than Astana?  If so, then woudn’t that set up the biggest showdown in the history of the sport?

There would be the always strong CSC wanting a repeat win at the Tour, and an almost muscle-bound Astana also wanting a repeat win at the Tour, given that both of these teams won it the last time they appeared in it.  And I’m not even going to get into the angles of Sastre’s new team and whichever team Landis lands on.  Okay, I did. 

Lance versus Alberto.  Lance versus Bruyneel.  Excuse me while I find my checkbook, mortgage my house and cash in the kids’ college funds to buy a ticket to see that happen!  I mean, wouldn’t we all go into hawk to fly to France for that kind of cage-wrestling match?  Wouldn’t the bookmakers love watching how much money was wagered on the Tour if this came to pass? 

Okay, one can harbor such dreams until next week.

As a final note on this topic, recently Johan Bruyneel has stated repeatedly his “surprise” about Lance’s decision to come back into the sport.  He said he hadn’t even had the chance to speak with Lance about it yet.  But now we know that Lance spoke with George about it two months ago.  So let’s just say that Johan’s denials never came close to sounding genuine to begin with, but if his is the “brother” of Lance as he describes in his recent pocket-sized autobiography, then clearly he is not the favorite brother.  

Either that, or maybe Lance has another manager lurking in the shadows. 

Finally:  Hincapie World, Party On!

So you may have heard about the Pla D’Adet development (it’s pronounced PLAH-da-day) near Grenville, SC that will have Hincapie-branding throughout. 

Or maybe you haven’t.  

In that case, it’s a planned performance training center and residential resort community aimed at cycling enthusiasts, as well as tri-athletes and runners.  

And I quote the marketing materials here:  Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northwest South Carolina, it will comprise 97 homesites surrounding a village with a restaurant, a bike shop, a spa, and a training facility including an indoor pool/sauna, fitness center, and cycling training rooms.  There will be trails for running and cycling: a 4.6-mile rubberized loop and another seven miles of single-track mountain-bike trails, plus hundreds of miles of mountainous and flat, low-traffic roads for roadie-training. Home site prices start at $399,000.  

What I learned from Ricardo, was that the project recently took an important step forward. 

To date, about half of the lots have sales contracts in place, but things have slowed because development of the property has been scheduled for 2009.  For now, all you see is a mountain and some pretty brochures and a website.  That doesn’t exactly help drive the sales momentum.

Apparently a developer has been secured and work on roads, sewers and infrastructure is now set to move forward.  

The Hincapie brothers have an equity stake in this project in exchange for the brand name and endorsement, and they will consult on details of the facilities as the project progresses.  If you’re flush and so inclined, you can get your own little slice of this heaven by contacting (864) 561-9134 or www.pladadet.com.

We would like to genuinely thank the Hincapie organization, its representatives, and its Pater Familie, Ricardo Hincapie, for sharing an evening with us and for their continuing enthusiastic support of our favorite sport.  

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Lance has his work cut out for him – his age, the new competitors and the possible conflicts within his Astana team. He needs a dedicated team to do his best with teammates like George who were dedicated to supporting him. I think Lance needs to recruit Hincape if he wants to win and Lance needs to consider how the comeback can change his reputation

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