George Hincapie's aunt Mari asks me to sit down. The taxi I've called for won't be picking me up for another twenty minutes, and she wants to make sure I'm comfortable while I wait. Her way of speaking, her mannerisms, and overall demeanor are so Colombian that they're almost comical. As a result, I feel right at home. She reminds me of both my mother and every one of my aunts (but unlike my aunts, she asks no awkward questions about my current life, and doesn't remind me that I used to only be "this tall" at one point in my life).
I talk to Mari for a good while. We joke comfortably, since it's hard not to feel at home around someone like her. I ask if I can take a picture of her. She's happy to oblige.
As I sit in her office, I can't help but notice the large painting of George Hincapie that hangs above her. He's sporting US Postal kit, and appears to be overseeing matters at the factory. But he's not just in his aunt Mari's office. He's everywhere. He oversees the main production room. He looks on as patterns are cut, and as fabric is sublimated as well. Here in Medellin, George sees all.
But this being Colombia, I notice that an even higher power is in charge of looking after the threads that go into the clothing made in the factory. Even George can't be tasked with a duty like this. Reinforcements are called. The Virgin Mary and Child guard the thread, as Jesus and the Apostles look after the airy meeting room where I meet with George's brother Rich.
I ask how often George comes down to Medellín.
“As kids we would come to Medellín every year, but that stopped when Colombia went through its drug cartel issues. Luckily, those problems have since ended. I now come about four times a year. George’s travels and racing schedule have kept him from coming here in years, but that will change soon.”
George’s parents have an apartment in Medellín (where they were both born), and they are here often. Rich prefers to stay with uncle Jorge and aunt Mari when he comes down to oversee production. Day to day operations are under the care of several family members.
“In the States, there’s George and me, and our cousin Brian who works in our distribution facility,” Rich says “Here in Colombia we have my aunt Mari, my uncle Jorge, as well as my cousins David and Mely. They basically run the show down here.”
George and Rich's uncle Jorge Hincapie is a great example of the wealth of knowledge in textiles and manufacturing that exists in Medellín. He worked for much of his life at a mill owned by Coltejer, the textile manufacturer that employs a large percentage of Medellín's population. But Jorge's past in Coltejer is not the only connection that the company has to cycling. During the 1950s, Coltejer was where Colombia's first great cycling champion, Ramon Hoyos, worked. Though he was an amateur (Colombia didn't have professionals until 1984), Coltejer sponsored his teams as he won several Vueltas a Colombia.
Further proof of the connection between textiles and cycling in Colombia is the fact that Singer (the sewing machine company) sponsored a team for many years. So too did a disproportionately large number of dress shirt manufacturers.
Ramon Hoyos wearing his Coltejer kit
But while it's Jorge Hincapie who runs the factory, aided by his past experience in textiles, it’s George's cousins David and Mely who proudly show me around the factory. They explain every nuance of the production methods used, as well as the recent expansion that has added a significant amount of square footage to the factory.
As we arrive to the back of the factory, they show me the outdoor patio where workers play soccer during their lunch break. This is Colombia after all. The Virgin Mary looks after the thread, and workers need to play soccer during their lunch break.
Mely, Mari, Jorge, Rich, David
Americans will continue to see George Hincapie as one of them. New Yorkers will see him as a New Yorker, much in the same way that those in Greenville, South Carolina will claim him as their own.
But when you sit and talk with his aunt Mari during a warm Medellín afternoon, you realize that the three-time US National champion is also plenty Colombian.
Taken in part from an article that was originally published in Road Magazine
I know you've probably seen a few downhill videos like this before, maybe even better ones. But this one takes place in Manizales, a city close to Medellin, that has a rich cycling history. As such, I couldn't help myself, and had to share it.
Thanks to my brother for sharing the link with me. And speaking of my brother, the new episode of his podcast is out, featuring yours truly.