Imagine you have ridden your bike for countless hours over hills too steep to measure, in weather too cold, too hot, too windy.
You are one of the fittest athletes in the world, so of course, you have some individual success, away from the media glare. But when the spotlight shines the brightest, your efforts serve to put someone else on the podium. Namely, Lance Armstrong, with whom you have trained since you were 15. In fact, you become the only cyclist to ride alongside Armstrong in all seven of his Tour de France victories, using your 6-foot-3 frame to shield your team's leader from wind, rain, rivals and overeager fans. You are referred to in the media, when you are mentioned at all, as a bodyguard, a lieutenant.
Now imagine that at 32, you have your most successful year in professional cycling, winning six races. One of those races would be the most grueling leg of the 2005 Tour de France. Stage 15 in the Pyrenees includes 33.5 miles of climbing at an average gradient of 7.96 percent.You outsprint Spaniard Oscar Pereiro, a pure climber operating on his home turf, despite rabid bands of Basques hurling epithets and worse at you over the last 200 meters. You shield your eyes in disbelief as you cross the finish line. You call this the "biggest win of my life." Your family and friends are overcome with emotion, unable to speak. Dan Osipow, director of the Discovery Channel team, fields more phone calls and emails to congratulate you than he did for any of Armstrong's wins.
After returning to the States, you are honored with a parade attended by 2,500 people in your adopted hometown of Greenville, S.C. You cruise the parade route on your bicycle while your wife, Melanie (a model you met during the 2003 Tour while she was handing out Credit Lyonnais stuffed lions), and daughter Julia walk by your side. You even have a day named after you. Armstrong attends in your honor. Your Tour victory so captivated the American public that you are included, with Armstrong, in a Senate Resolution. Despite this success you remain the all-around nice guy you've always been. The same guy who granted an interview to a reporter while roaming the aisles of a French supermarket, hungry and no doubt bone tired after a hard day of training.
George Hincapie for Sportsman of the Year? Not so hard to imagine.
React: Who's your Sportsman of the Year?
Sports Illustrated will announce the 2005 Sportsman of the Year winner on Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Check back every weekday until then to read more Sportsman picks from SI writers.