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With his sights set on the World Cup schedule beginning next month, the United States
Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s George Hincapie is exhibiting solid early season
form which he hopes will lead him to one of his season’s top goals – a podium finish
at Paris-Roubaix.

In today’s third stage of the Tour of Valencia, a 186 kilometer race from Calpe to
Xativa, Hincapie placed third in a sprint finish among a lead group of 45 riders,
one bike length behind winner and current World Champion, Oscar Freire of Mapei.
This past Sunday, Hincapie placed fourth overall in another sprint finish at the
Trofeo Luis Puig.

"I’m starting to feel better but I have a ways to go to improve," Hincapie
said following today’s stage. "I’m happy with where I am right now. Everything
I am doing now is in preparation for April and the end of March."

Hincapie and the US Postal Service team is gearing up for the World Cup and Classics
schedule, beginning with the World Cup opener, Milan-San Remo, on March 18.

Last year, Hincapie placed ninth in Milan-San Remo and then fourth at Paris-Roubaix
a few weeks later, equaling the highest ever finish by an American at the "Hell
of the North."

"I’m still lacking the power for April’s races, but I would rather have it then
than have it now," Hincapie added. "I’m stronger at this point than last
year, which is due to more training and having more confidence."

Another reason for Hincapie’s early season success may be the presence of new teammate
Viatcheslav Ekimov, a Classics specialist and one of the more experienced riders
in the peloton. Ekimov spent two years with the USPS team in 1997 and 1998 and rejoined
the squad following a one-year hiatus. Has having Ekimov back on the team helped
Hincapie at this point?

"Definitely," Hincapie said. "Both Eki and Frankie (Andreu) helped
out a lot today, but neither one of us three are in top shape. But it’s still good
to see we are fighting for wins even though we are only about 70%."

In today’s stage, 45 riders came together to the finish in Xativa following several
climbs, including one within 10 kms to go.

"Eki led it out with about one km to go and everyone started sprinting with
around 250 meters to go," Hincapie said. "Freire was real strong in the

Ekimov finished in 40th place in the same time as Freire and Hincapie, while Andreu
dropped back in the final sprint and lost 21 seconds, placing 51st. The rest of
the USPS team placed further back, with two riders in a group at 5:34 and three others
in a smaller group nearly 15 minutes back. Overall, Ekimov leads the USPS team in
30th place, 3:36 back of race leader Giuseppe Di Grande of Festina, while Hincapie
is in 59th place, at 9:43.

"There are guys flying for these races, then you have guys looking forward to
the World Cup races, then you have guys focusing for the Tour (de France),"
Hincapie remarked on how the early season peloton is split in the first few months
of racing. "There are three different levels."

The Tour of Valencia continues tomorrow with a 187 km race to Castellon, and then
concludes in Valencia on Satuday with a double-stage day, including a race finishing
19.8 km time trial.


1. Oscar Freire, Mapei; 186 kms in 4:34:30

2. Erik Dekker, Rabobank; s.t.

3. George Hincapie, USPS; s.t.

4. Roberto Petito, Fassa Bortolo; s.t.

5. Laurent Jalabert, ONCE; s.t.


40. Viatcheslav Ekimov, USPS; s.t.

51. Frankie Andreu, USPS; at :21

78. Cedric Vasseur, USPS; at 5:34

82. Christian Vande Velde, USPS; s.t.

141. Lance Armstrong, USPS; at 14:58

143. Steffen Kjaergaard, USPS; s.t.

156. Julian Dean, USPS; s.t.

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