For the first time in 17 years, George Hincapie is hanging out at his home in Greenville, S.C., instead of racing bikes in France during the month of July. In fact, it’s the first time in 30 years he hasn’t spent the summer in Europe; instead, he’s spending time with his newborn baby and his wife, working hard to expand his cycling apparel line, promoting his book, coaching his development team, working on events such as the Hincapie Gran Fondo, and helping run his cyclist-focused hotel—the Hotel Domestique.
The name of the hotel is no accident—as the upscale lodge is not just intended for pack-leading cyclists, says Hincapie; it’s for everyone. The retired pro, remembered not for his personal ego or amazing solo finishes, but for his relentless support of his teammates, says folks of all walks of life are coming to stay at Hotel Domestique and appreciating the design, décor, cuisine, and environmental beauty of the newly remodeled hotel.
“I’m passionate about the design,” Hincapie said. “We kept the bones of the hotel but inside is very modern, contemporary, but it fuses well. The designers did a perfect job, in my opinion. You don’t have to travel far and you feel like you’re really in a different place.”
The hotel, opened in July of last year, is also quickly gaining a reputation for its cuisine. The property’s Restaurant 17 (hey, it’s better than Lance’s “Juan Pelota” coffee shop in Austin), is led by Chef Adam Cooke, who was formerly chef at the luxury hotel Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., for five years before coming to South Carolina. Much like the hotel itself, Cooke has a passion for combining the old and the new, the international and the local. “I think everything is starting to fall into place,” Hincapie says.
Hincapie, while not a domestique per se during his career, walked away from bike riding a professional right hand man—thus, the title of his book released in May of this year: The Loyal Lieutenant. The book is considered a no-holds-barred account of his record-setting two decades racing in the Tour de France and his uncanny ability to work with Lance Armstrong, leading him to seven Tour wins, while Hincapie could have easily been a top finisher himself on another team. Co-written with sports broadcaster Craig Hummer, it’s a great read to understand more about the man and the sport.
But back in Greenville, S.C., it’s all about the future to Hincapie, training his determination on his business ventures, helping to foster a culture of fun, clean cycling in the U.S., spending time with family, and riding bikes. “This area’s got the best cycling in all of the East Coast,” Hincapie says of his hometown. “And it’s easy to get to Europe from here.”
One of his favorite local rides is a six-mile climb up through Ceasers Head State Park, which according to Hincapie, “has a good steady gradient, and not much traffic.” He also likes the hills of neighboring North Carolina, Pisgah National Forest, Howard Gap, and the other passes that riders will tackle on the annual Hincapie Gran Fondo charity ride.
So while all this may sound like more than a full-time job, Hincapie’s main business focus is on his apparel line, Hincapie Sportswear, producing a full line of high-end road-cycling specific apparel and accessories for both men and women. To help prove the product – and as part of his mission to give back to the sport – all product is tested thoroughly by the Hincapie Sportswear Development Team, currently one of the best domestic professional teams.
“Growing up in Queens [New York], my parents didn’t have a lot of money, and I always had the support of local businesses, local cycling shops, and it’s just my hope that, after my career is over, I can help other kids get to the same level one day,” Hincapie said.
The Hincapie Development Team is one of his greatest sources of pride right now, carrying forward the work he did with teams like Garmin-Sharp and BMC to clean up the sport and promote road cycling in the U.S. Now more than two dozen Pros and Juniors train on his development squad, and they host a local Spring Series during February and March each year in addition to their national competition schedule. Look for Hincapie and his team to be involved in the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond in 2015 as well.
“Once you get people into the sport, they become fans. We all know cycling was totally screwed up 10 to 15 years ago, but it’s the one sport that put it all out in the open and we’ve watched the greatest riders in the world win clean,” he says. “If people start seeing how the sport has changed, and how completely unacceptable doping is now in the peloton, they will become true fans again.”
If you can’t get down for a visit to Hotel Domestique, you’ve got another opportunity to ride with George in the Hincapie Gran Fondo, October 25, 2014, in Greenville, S.C. Register online for the 80-, 50-, or 15-mile route, all of which end at the hotel.
As was his practice during his career, Hincapie remains unassuming and approachable. He enjoys riding with guests at the hotel and with fans and friends on his Gran Fondo, taking in the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains he’s called home for the last 14 years.
“My legacy is not for me to decide,” Hincapie says, “it’s for the fans. I hope they will look at what I did in the latter part of my career, and what I’m doing now, and see that I can be a positive force in the sport that we love.”