For years it was his duty not to ride for himself, but in the service of a certain Texan. So it seems somehow appropriate that, in his retirement, George Hincapie has made a bold—and inspired—move into the service industry. Twenty minutes north of Greenville, S.C., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Hincapie has opened the Hotel Domestique, a sleek, European-inspired retreat that can double as a launching point for various outdoor adventures, if one wishes.
One may not wish. This boutique hotel, a former bed-and-breakfast that was reimagined by the talented local designer Eric Brown, is an optimal place to sink roots—beside the modernist reflecting pool, or at the wine bar, if a visitor is feeling sedentary, or fatigued after following Hincapie around on his bike for a few hours on some of his old training roads. While cycling isn’t the only thing to do here, one of the hotel’s truly unique features is the opportunity to ride with Hincapie, who finished 17 Tours de France before retiring two years ago.
Hincapie’s memoir, Loyal Lieutenant, to be released later this month, chronicles his rise in the sport. Raised in the cycling coldbed of Queens, the son of a Colombian immigrant became Lance Armstrong’s trusted consigliere, his bodyguard and escort in the first week of the Tour, usually in the north of France—Normandy or Picardy, where the stages were flat, the weather foul, the crosswinds fierce, the behavior of the sprinters erratic. Hincapie also writes about his and his team’s use of performance-enhancing drugs, a storm he has weathered more successfully than Lance Armstrong. I’ll talk to Hincapie at length about those days, and those decisions, as publication of his book nears. Today’s interview focuses more on his post-cycling journey, and how it brought him to the Hotel Domestique.
Edge: George, I know you live in Greenville and train on the roads around there. How did you end up buying a hotel?
George Hincapie: The property is basically right at the base of the foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a place I’d pass several times a week on my training rides. I had gone there before with my wife for dinner. [Editor’s note: Melanie Hincapie is a former runway model and Tour de France podium girl; they have two children].
I just loved the spot. I loved that you could take an overhead shot of the hotel, if you show it to somebody and not tell them where it is, they’d guess that it’s in Tuscany or Provence. I love the look and feel of it, and I felt like, with the right partnership and the right team, we could bring it back to life.
Edge: Talk about the “Climbing With George” camp experience.
GH: The camp experience is, basically, people can come in and live like a pro cyclist for a few days. We do yoga in the mornings, we have breakfast after that, then go on a two- or four-hour ride, depending on the level of the group. We’ll do hard-core stuff, or we can modify that. After the ride, there’s a massage, then a wine tasting, then a nice meal made by our chef Adam Cook. If you don’t ride, there’s great hiking, or it’s fun to just head into town. Also, we’re about to solidify our partnership with The Cliffs, which has several golf courses, and more facilities than we do for people who don’t want to ride.
Edge: It’s kind of an oxymoron, but you were the most famous domestique of your era. If I’m going to pay to ride with you, is it cool if draft off you all day and also ask you to bring me water?
GH: [Laughing] Well, sure. That’s part of the experience. I’m really good at gauging the level of the groups we get. You get some groups in, and they want to dance, so to speak, so you give them some nice, fun aggressive riding. Some people want to spin around, more easily. I’ll usually bring a couple other pros along, so they can help me. This last camp [former pro rider] Christian Vande Velde was there, and we kinda spread out.
Edge: That’s cool. Anyone else we might’ve heard of helping out?
GH: We’ve got some of the guys from my development team. You haven’t heard of them yet, but hopefully you will in the future.
Edge: Greenville has recently hosted the USA Pro road and time trial national championships. One doesn’t think of South Carolina as a cycling hotbed, but Greenville and its environs seems like a forward-thinking, bike-friendly cycling community.
GH: Absolutely, the city’s got a great bike path that they’re expanding as we speak. The Paracycling World Championships are coming here this August. Next year we’ve got the Criterium National Championships. The city is very supportive of cycling, and more and more people are getting into it. It’s exciting to see how much the sport has grown here.
Edge: And yet, I’m sure you’ve had run-ins with troglodytes who don’t want to share the road. What is it with guys in pickup trucks? It’s always some jerk in a pickup.
GH: Yeah, but you get that anywhere.