ASPEN - George Hincapie was struck by the attention and the fanfare that surrounded last year's inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
When he announced his intentions to retire, the decorated American cyclist could think of no better place to call it a career.
"The amount of people that came out last year and watched the stages - Aspen in particular - was quite impressive," the 39-year-old said Monday. "You don't even really see crowds like that, even in the biggest races in the world like the Tour de France. ... It's special for American riders in particular.
"I thought it would be more meaningful for me to end my career in the U.S."
Today, "Big George's" farewell tour rolls through Aspen, site of his impressive triumph in 2011's vaunted Queen Stage. It was here that, after chasing down the lead pack on a slippery descent of Independence Pass, and after more than five hours in the saddle, Hincapie prevailed in a sprint to the finish in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse.
"It was my favorite memory of Colorado. Winning in Aspen was an important, big victory for me," Hincapie said. "It felt great to win the hardest stage of the race."
The effort, which Hincapie parlayed into a fifth-place, general-classification finish - completing an American sweep of the top five spots - is one of myriad feats the New York native has accomplished during a storied two-wheeled existence.
The three-time U.S. national road-race champion took second at the 2005 Paris-Roubaix - the highest finish ever for a U.S. rider. He also helped teammates win nine Tour de France titles - including seven with Lance Armstrong.
In July, Hincapie completed his record 16th Tour de France.
He figures to play a secondary role this week on a BMC team that features Boulder's Tejay Van Garderen, Australian Cadel Evans and Swiss rider Johann Tschopp, who arrived in Colorado fresh off a Tour of Utah victory. (Van Garderen secured the yellow jersey Tuesday after a gutsy finish in Stage 2 in Crested Butte. Tschopp is 12th, 12 seconds off the pace, while Hincapie is 1 minute, 51 seconds back in 44th.)
That's just fine with Hincapie.
"I would like to be known as the guy who always put it on the line for the team and was one of the team players out there," he said. "I was able to help a lot of people win races, and I'm proud of that. I'm hoping people can be proud of what I've done, as well."
Added young sprint specialist Taylor Phinney, "BMC is lucky to have a guy like George finishing out his career in this race. He is the epitome of the old guard. Tejay and I are representative of the newer generation, and to race with the big man here is going to be a special experience for all of us."
Race CEO Shawn Hunter echoed those sentiments last week.
"His performance last year (in Aspen) was poetic," Hunter said. "We're honored that he's going to race here in his last competition. He's a true gentleman and one of the great ambassadors of this sport. We're hoping to send him off in style."