Every Maverick needs a Goose. And George Hincapie is arguably the most successful Goose in Tour de France history. After riding as a domestique—pro cycling parlance for a wingman—on all seven of Lance Armstrong’s winning campaigns, he also helped propel Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans to the sports’ most prestigious title. Sure, Lance’s titles were stripped, but it’s hard to hold doping against any rider from that era.
Now that his professional cycling career is over, the New York native has decamped to the verdant hills of South Carolina to start a new stage in his life: that of boutique hotel owner. But Hincapie isn’t cutting ties with cycling; his appropriately named Hotel Domestique is designed to be a rider’s paradise. Surrounded by miles and miles of rural (but well-paved) roads, the hotel also offers access to plenty of trails for mountain bikers. The hotel’s staff features experienced cyclists who lead daily tours for guests of all experience levels. And there’s even an on-site mechanics shop and collection of high-end rental options, obviating the need to haul your own bike with you on vacation.
“I spent a great deal of time in Europe while racing, and I brought back many of those influences,” Hincapie says of his Tuscan-like hideaway in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Beginners can get a guide and ride on flat to gently rolling terrain. Experts and those with a competitive spirit will find challenges like the route we use for The Hincapie Gran Fondo each fall, which covers 80 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing.”
Since not everyone will be able to make it down to South Carolina for a chance to meet up with Hincapie, the Tour de France stage winner offered Playboy advice on the essential skills and gear needed to toast all your friends on your next weekend ride.
Tip No. 1: Take it easy out there
HINCAPIE: Don’t get lost in how serious the sport can be. Make it fun. I never forget why I got into cycling in the first place, and I still love to ride. Whenever I ride with beginners, they always want to go as hard as possible. They think pros ride that way all day every day, which they don’t. Ride your pace, not someone else’s.
Tip No. 2: Your training plan doesn’t have to be complicated to work
HINCAPIE: A simple and effective program should include one or two longer rides per week, one day of intervals, and one endurance workout. I like to do two days hard and then take a rest day, which might include a really easy one-hour spin.
Tip No. 3: Still, sometimes you’ve got to suffer on the bike if you want to up your game
HINCAPIE: You have to mix up the intensity and not ride at the same pace every day if you want to get faster. Incorporate short, intense efforts under one-minute at a speed beyond what’s comfortable for you. Rest, repeat. If it doesn’t “hurt,” you’re not doing it right. Start with five one-minute efforts and build to 10 as your fitness improves. Take a similar approach but with longer efforts like 10-20 minutes at greater than a “conversational” pace. In other words, you can’t talk, but it doesn’t feel like you’re missing a lung. Do five to 10 of these during a two-hour ride.
Tip No. 4: In a group, be alert, and know where that one nutty rider is at all times
HINCAPIE: Positioning is critical when riding in a large group, and that was one of my best attributes. In a race like the Tour de France where 200 guys are elbow-to-elbow on a narrow one- or two-lane road, you always have to be aware of your position and who is around you. Be alert and attentive, stay away from sketchy-looking riders making erratic movements, and try to stay near the front.
Tip No. 5: Don’t let cycling rub you the wrong way
HINCAPIE: The best treatment for a saddle sore is avoiding getting one. To do that, make sure you buy bibs or shorts with a good chamois, and keep it clean. If chafing starts, use a chamois cream. If a sore develops, try Neosporin or one of my old-school favorites, Bag Balm.
Best All-Around Bike Frame: Endurance frames have become really popular, like the BMC Granfondo and Felt Bicycle’s Z Series. They handle really well but have more relaxed geometry and a smoother ride. You actually see pros now using this type of frame for grueling races like Paris-Roubaix.
Components: I use Shimano Dura Ace, which are durable, shift smoothly, and have great breaking.
Helmet: I ride in the Giro Aeon because it’s super light and breathes really well, so it keeps my head cool.
Clothing: Go with bibs instead of shorts. They use “suspenders” to fit properly, as opposed to an elastic band around the waste. That makes them more conforming and comfortable. My family’s company, Hincapie, makes a jersey/bib called “Edge,” which is more of a race fit for better performance. Accessorize with arm and leg warmers and a vest for wide range of temps.
Wheels: One of the best performance accessories is the carbon wheel, which is lighter and stiffer than other materials but offers comfortable ride quality. Plus, carbon wheels look good, sort of like rider bling. A company called Hed has a great lineup.
Sunglasses: Smith Optics Pivlock. They come with three different lens colors to cover everything from bright sun to flat clouds.
Saddle: This is an individual preference. Some prefer more padding or less, while specific saddle shapes are more comfortable in the same way. Best to check with local bike shop and find the one that works. I ride on a Fizik Aliante.
Bike computer: Garmin. They just released the Edge 1000, which has color and touch-screen navigation.
Markham Heid is a writer based in Philadelphia. His work appears regularly on TIME.com, MensHealth.com, SHAPE.com, and Prevention.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkhamH.