With barely an inch to spare, the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s George Hincapie scored one of the biggest victories of his career in becoming the first American to win Gent-Wevelgem today in Belgium. Hincapie won the 214 kilometer event, the traditional mid-week Classic between World Cup events the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, in a photo finish from Leon van Bon of Mercury-Viatel. With top-six finishes in the last two editions of Paris-Roubaix, today’s victory states Hincapie is on form for his favorite event.
“It feels good,” Hincapie said. “I’ve been knocking on the door for a while. I think I work as hard as anyone out there so I feel I definitely deserve it. Sunday is my day, though, it’s my big goal.
“I will definitely have more confidence on Sunday. It feels good to get the win not just for myself, but also for the team. They will have much more confidence in me as well.”
Hincapie last tasted victory at the 1999 First Union Classic and placed fourth in that year’s edition of Gent-Wevelgem. The former U.S. Pro champion and van Bon, the current Dutch champion, were part of a five-man breakaway group that rolled off the front of the lead group with just under 20 kms to go.
Hincapie said that he launched an attack the first time up the steep Kemmelberg climb, with under 70 kms to go, taking 13 other riders with him. With all of the main favorites in the break, the leaders gained several minutes on the field. With just under 20 kms to go, an on-form Nico Mattan of Cofidis, the recent winner of the Three Days of the Panne stage race, attacked and along with van Bon, gained 200 meters. Hincapie, joined by Telekom’s Steffen Wesemann and CSC-World Online’s Arvis Piziks, then bridged the short gap.
“I knew this was a good move,” Hincapie said. “It was better to be in a smaller group and we all worked well together.”
The five riders quickly gained an advantage and held a minute lead with six kilometers to go. After several attempts by Mattan, Wesemann and Piziks to go clear, the group remained together. Hincapie and van Bon then battled it out in the last few hundred meters, with the American taking top honors.
1. George Hincapie, 215 kms in 5:00:50
2. Leon van Bon, Mercury-Viatel; s.t.
3. Steffen Wesemann, Telekom; s.t.
4. Arvis Piziks, CSC-World Online; s.t.
5. Nico Mattan, Cofidis; s.t.
6 Nico Eeckhout (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 0.42
7 Chris Peers (Bel) Cofidis
8 Daniele Nardello (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 1.00
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Deutsche Telekom 1.15
10 Gabriele Balducci (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Vini Caldirola
11 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
12 Biagio Conte (Ita) Saeco Macchine Per Caffe
13 Romans Vainsteins (Lat) Domo-Farm Frites 1.26
14 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 2.24
15 Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) Tacconi Sport-Vini Cal 6.03
16 Vjatceslav Ekimov (Rus) U.S. Postal Service
17 Hendrik Van Dijck (Bel) Lotto-Adecco
18 Servais Knaven (Ned) Domo-Farm Frites
19 Franck Rnier (Fra) Bonjour
20 Saulius Ruskys (Ltu) Gerolsteiner