Easter Sunday holds a special significance for adventure cycling enthusiasts. It is the day for one of the world's toughest road bike challenges - the Paris Roubaix, aka 'Hell of the North' - infamous for its muddy, cobbled course.
AFP - If prizes were given for obstinacy George Hincapie might already have given up his lifelong quest to stand atop one of cycling's most prestigious podiums.
But as the 35-year-old New Yorker admits, Paris-Roubaix is never a race you win with ease.
On Sunday the American will stand out from a small field of co-favourites when he saddles up for the 259km race for an impressive 14th time.
Certainly more than most of the 187-strong peloton, he can boast and lament in equal measures about the numerous times he has come close to achieving his dream of winning the treacherous cobblestoned classic.
After struggling to make an impact on the race in his five participations from 1994 to 1998, Hincapie took the first of an impressive seven top ten finishes when he finished fourth in 1999 while riding with Lance Armstrong's US Postal team.
It took another six years and four top ten finishes for Hincapie to get close to the holy grail, in the form of the granite cobblestone handed out to every winner of the 'Hell of the North'.
Hincapie's misfortune that day was in riding into Roubaix's famous outdoor velodrome where the race finishes alongside Belgian star Tom Boonen, whose sprint powers proved superior.
A year later as Hincapie rode confidently through the Mons-en-Pevele cobbled section 46km from the finish he crashed, broke his collarbone and was forced out.
"I try not to dwell on the times I've had bad luck or the times I've been close, I try to tell myself that it's possible," Hincapie told AFP when asked how he gets motivated for the race.
"There's nobody in the race that's got more experience than me. That's got to play a part.
"I can't predict who is going to win tomorrow but I have as good a chance as anybody."
Boonen, who has since been crowned king of both the Tour of Flanders (twice) and Paris-Roubaix (again in 2008), will line up as the man to beat on Sunday.
But after tailoring his training and race programme specifically this year for Roubaix, Hincapie is hoping a combination of his experience, and his teammates' help, can finally pull him through.
He is buoyed by the fact Canadian Michael Barry, who proved pivotal to his runner-up place in 2005, is back in the team.
And in recent Ghent-Wevelgem winner Edvald Boasson Hagen, Austrian sprinter Bernhard Eisel and German Marcus Burghardt, Hincapie should have plenty of solid team support.
"Our team is super strong, we've seen what Edvald did on Wednesday, Burghardt and Eisel are there and Michael Barry's back - he helped me a lot when I got second place here last time and I'm glad he's back on the team.
"We're definitely ready for tomorrow," added Hincapie.
On paper Boonen's Quick Step team, which includes Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder and on-form Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, look a good bet.
But Hincapie believes the Belgian outfit should take nothing for granted.
"They have strong riders, but this is a tough race, you can't really say they're gonna win with ease.
"They have to suffer as much as any of us. I'm not afraid of Quick Step at all.
"If you look at the history, it's an open race for everybody."
Date created : 2009-04-12