TRAVELERS REST, S.C. Professional cyclist George Hincapie rode off into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Travelers Rest, S.C., early Saturday, surrounded by thousands of his fellow cyclists and supporters.
The ride, Gran Fondo Hincapie, marked the retirement of the former Charlotte resident after 19 years as a professional cyclist.
This is a really special day for myself, my family and fans, Hincapie said to riders before the race. Thank you all for coming out and for your support.
Cadel Evans, 2011 winner of the Tour de France, stood shoulder to shoulder with Hincapie at the races start line, which was sandwiched between a vineyard and the Hincapies hotel, La Bastide.
Saturdays 1,300 racers traveled along a winding route that climbed more than 7,000 feet in elevation one Hincapie knows well and used to prepare for the Tour de France and the Paris-Roubaix races.
Its great; were all here celebrating Georges retirement, said Rich Hincapie, George Hincapies brother. The support is nothing but a testament to Georges character.
During George Hincapies career, he competed in 15 Tour de France races and represented the United States in five Olympic Games. He also placed second in the 2005 Paris-Roubaix, ranking higher than any other American in history.
Rich Hincapie said he hopes his brothers retirement ride continues as an annual charity event. He said his goal is to grow the ride to 3,000 racers in three years.
BMC racing team spokesman Sean Weide said George Hincapie was blown away by the turnout and supporters at the ride.
Proceeds at this years inaugural event benefit the Greenville, S.C., chapter of Meals on Wheels. Through funds raised, about 4,000 to 6,000 meals can be served to individuals each day for weeks roughly four times the average reach, said Larry Webb, past chairman of the board for the chapter.
George is our local hero, Webb said. Hes always done great things for our community, and today were out here for him.
Each April for the past seven years, Webb said he has worked closely with Hincapie to host charity rides.
Rich and George have been big supporters each year, and George is a huge part of the cycling community, Webb said.
Saturdays retirement race came soon after the American cyclist released a personal statement to his fans admitting that he used performance-enhancing drugs in the sport prior to 2006.
It is extremely difficult today to acknowledge that during a part of my career I used banned substances, Hincapie said in the Oct. 10 statement on his website. It became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them. I deeply regret that choice.
Hincapie, former teammate of professional cyclist Lance Armstrong, was the last member on Armstrongs cycling teams to comply with a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation into doping allegations about Armstrong.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles on Aug. 24 following a USADA investigation. He was also subject to a lifetime ban from the sport.
In Hincapies statement, he said for the past six years he has worked to get rid of banned substances in cycling. It is his hope to clean up the sport and positively impact young professional riders.
I am proud to be part of the cycling community, he wrote, and believe we continue to make positive changes to our sport.