After selflessly pacing teammate Lance Armstrong through six Tour de France victories, George Hincapie got the chance to raise his arms across the finish line for the first time, winning his first-ever Tour de France stage victory on the 127-mile Stage 15, through the worst of the Pyrenees.
George Hincapie at the finish line.
Hincapie, a support rider with team Discovery Channel, was given the green light to leave Armstrong and chase a group of 14 riders that launched an early attack after about 18 miles of racing. He never left them.
With 2.8 miles to go, and the pack whittled to just four riders, Oscar Pereiro of Phonak tried to drop the 32-year-old New York native with a sudden burst of speed, but Hincapie went with him, pacing Pereiro pedal for pedal into the final 1,000 feet, then blasting ahead for the win.
Hincapie is the first teammate of Armstrong's to win a stage victory since Armstrong began his series of six consecutive Tour victories in 1999.
"I'm in shock right now. This is unbelievable," Hincapie told the Outdoor Life Network after the race. "I was about to cross the line and just the emotion you feel, it's indescribable."
Armstrong rode conservatively, several minutes behind the leaders, in a star-studded chase group composed of team CSC's Ivan Basso, Phonak's Floyd Landis, Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer, T-Mobile's Jan Ullrich and Andreas Kloden, and team Rabobank's Mickael Rasmussen, who was in second place overall at the start of the day. All were packed into a tight chase group that slowly thinned over the second to last climb of the day with 16 miles to go.
With a little more than four miles left, Basso attacked the rest of the group, forcing Armstrong to follow. The two shared the lead into the final 1,000 feet, with Armstrong right on Basso's wheel, poised for a sprint to the finish line that never came. With no points or time advantage at stake, Armstrong allowed Basso to cross the line for sixth place without a challenge.
Rasmussen has lost his hold on second place to the consistently hard-charging Basso, who is now Armstrong's closest threat, 2:46 behind. Rasmussen, still wearing the polka dot climber's jersey, is in third place, 3:09 back, followed by Ullrich (5:58) and Illes Balears' Francisco Mancebo (6:31).
Tomorrow, riders will rest in preparation for the final of three days in the Pyrenees, Tuesday's 112-mile ride from Mourenx to Pau, over the final mountains of the Tour.