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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
Life with Lance: George Hincapie
George Hincapie (right) with Lance Armstrong
Hincapie (right) is never far behind Armstrong in the Tour
George Hincapie is Lance Armstrong's closest friend in the peloton and the only rider to have ridden with him on every one of his Tour de France wins.

The 32-year-old American, who won his first stage in the prestigious race on Sunday, has the key job of protecting Armstrong on the Tour's flatter stages.

But he's not bad in the mountains either - as he demonstrated with stage victory on Sunday, perhaps the toughest on this year's Tour - and is responsible for coaxing the six-times champion up the ascents until the more-established climbers take up the challenge.

Here, Hincapie tells BBC Sport about his role in the team.

RIDING FOR LANCE

My job is to protect a team leader and that, in my case, just so happens to be Lance.

And yes, that's my sole job. To ensure he comes to no harm, ensure he's in the best possible position before the really nasty parts of any climb kick in and ensure he's wearing the yellow jersey for a seventh time in Paris.

Some people don't get it. They say "don't you ever just want to do something for yourself?" which is missing the point.

I know it's hard to fully comprehend for those outside cycling, in fact anyone outside of the team at times.

But the simple fact is that Lance has always been our best-positioned rider to win the race so all efforts go on that.

GEORGE HINCAPIE FACTFILE
Born: June 29, 1973
Nationality: American
Team: Discovery Channel
Season highlights: 2nd - Paris-Roubaix; 1st - Dauphine Libere prologue
Career highlights: Riding Armstrong to six Tour de France wins
And when I see him standing on that podium in yellow, that buzz is just as special as me winning one of the Classics.

Cycling really is a team effort. When Lance gets that win, the whole team knows they have done absolutely everything in their capability to get him there.

There are moments when I get to do it for myself - the time trials for example - and Lance seems just as happy to see me do well in those as himself.

But my main role is to make sure I ride next to him whenever possible and keep him out of mischief. Thankfully it's worked for the most part up until now.

During the flatter stages that generally entails keeping him at the front of the peloton to ensure that, if any crashes happen, he's generally clear of them.

And in the mountains, I ride as his lead-out man to get him into a steady tempo and, in the process, shake off some of his rivals.

I try to do my level best to stay in front of him for as long as possible however painful it gets. After that, it's up to me to peel away and let the likes of the Ace [Jose Azevedo] step in for the harsher climbs.

I then make my way to the end of the stage as best I can. Sometimes it's a killer but, if it means I go over the line seeing Lance celebrating a stage win or in the leader's yellow jersey, that's fine by me.




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