I came upon this blog soon after the conclusion of USA Cycling Road Race Championships. No reason to expound on the post you can find at Yummy NOMs. The author, Bo Zimmerman, has given me permission to publish his thoughts here at LowCadence.com. Enjoy.
Call me a fanboy. Call me a homer. Call me a wannabe. I don’t care. I saw something spectacular this past Sunday. I saw a town get behind a beloved son, will him to the finish line, and then have a collective group hug when he got there first. I saw a man overcome a frustrating year to cap it off with an all-too-rare win and then wrap himself in his family as he soaked it all in. I saw Victory, the tastiest of all NOMs, be consumed by a most deserving recipient…
In what, in my eyes, hasn’t happened enough, George Hincapie won this past Sunday. Don’t get me wrong: George has won PLENTY of races, this one being his record-tying third Stars and Stripes jersey. He’s in the 99.9999th percentile in terms of his athletic abilities and cycling skills. He is without doubt one of the greatest American cyclists of his generation, but that’s not what he is known for. George is one of “those guys” that we all love. He brings the lunchbox every day, works hard, gets the job done, happily does the glamor-free work, and makes his team better in every way. Then he comes back, day after day, to do it again. He is nice. He is stoic. He always delivers.
In my brief time in cycling, I’ve found that many cyclists can be a fickle bunch, which makes it even more astounding that George is not only universally liked in the sport, but revered. Seriously. Try to find somebody badmouthing him. They don’t exist.
Now, stack that up against Lance Armstrong. He’s a polarizing figure in that as much as people respect his prowess on the bicycle, many can’t stand how he did it. Armstrong brings out strong emotions in people. He is a force of nature, no doubt, but any Lance love comes with at least a little guilt that your pulling for the class bully. (Note: I say all of this as an unapologetic, unabashed Lance Armstrong fan. I wear his wristband, read his books, follow him on Twitter, and do my best to raise as much money as I can for the Livestrong cause. Lance is Lance, and I love him for it.)
Compare what has made these two men what they are and drives their success:
- Lance Armstrong: laser-like focus, unparalleled willpower, killer instinct, an indomitable spirit, and an ego the size of Texas
- George Hincapie: dedication, commitment, hard work, altruism, and an understanding of what it takes for a team to bring a winning rider to the finish line
Both are admirable in their own way, but which can you relate to more? I thought so.
And then there’s this: would one exist as he currently does without the other? For every Michael Jordan or Lance Armstrong, there are countless Steve Kerrs, and George Hincapies. MJ needed Kerr to hit that 3 against the Jazz in ‘96, and Lance needed George to protect him in the flats and pull him in the mountains throughout those 7 Tour victories. I love those lunch pail guys. I’m a huge fan of both groups, mind you. It’s just nice to see someone from the latter group get the brass ring.
Let it be known: the Stars and Stripes jersey is far from the most prestigious prize in the world of cycling. Other than soccer, it’s the most euro-centric sport I know of in that everything that matters comes from, and occurs on, the Continent. I’d be willing to bet that even Hincapie himself, with a gun to his head, would easily take his mountain Tour stage win on the Pla d’Adet over all three USPro road race jerseys he has now amassed, which makes the emotional nature of this win so interesting. To understand it, let’s rewind through a couple parts of his year to date:
Paris-Roubaix: an ill-timed flat keeps George out of contention, robbing him of the one race that has haunted him and the only thing missing from his impressive list of palmares. He was pissed after that race, but at least that time it was fate that intervened. On the other hand…
The Tour de France: in what will forever now be deemed in this space as the TdF Screwjob, George jumped into a breakaway in the 14th stage and had a chance at a day in the Yellow Jersey. Only, depending on who you ask, one rival team or the other got petty and decided to work just hard enough to keep him out of Yellow. Pissed doesn’t even begin to describe George’s state of mind after that slap in the face. More like abject despair and disbelief. Oh, and he broke his collarbone with several stages to go… Then he finished the dang race anyway. A hard man, indeed.
That was it for a while. No more racing. Only rehab. Fast forward to Sunday… One of the teams that may or may not have hosed George in the TdF Screwjob brought a juggernaut team to Greenville with the goal of, once and for all, declaring dominance on USA Cycling.
George, he had Craig Lewis, who had the swine flu. George won anyway. (Note:Craig rode a courageous race, breaking up the peloton on Paris Mountain, before dropping off. Expect great things from him in the future.)
George is well known to be a low-key, unassuming guy. He “knows his role,” and he sticks to it, mostly, but there’s more than meets the eye. For an interesting perspective, watch “A Ride with George Hincapie,” and you’ll see something else under the surface: white hot passion. He wants it just as bad as anybody else. He just typically goes about it in a different way (i.e., playing the domestiqe, leadout, etc.) Sunday was different. He was the man, and you could tell he was enjoying it. When he crossed the line, he was declaring territory. This was HIS race.
Two images come to my mind, one of which I witnessed:
- On the podium George focused on all the family that were there which would better be describe as a clan, or a phalanx. There must have been 50 of them, and each one was as happy, if not happier than George was. It was beautiful. He was beeming, and was quite literally having the time of his life as he showered himself, his competitors, and the crowd in champagne.
- As told to me by my buddy Fu, who was lucky enough to be a volunteer in the right place: when George finally came to a stop, he sat down on a curb. Fu did his best to make sure George had room with the mob crowding in around him, but George couldn’t get enough of it. “He just soaked it up and reveled in what was happening around him.” Fu told me that he just sat their, shredded, and soaked it all up like a sponge. Ricardo, George’s dad, was with him on the curb. After catching his breath, finishing the last water bottle and tossing it into the crowd, George draped himself on his dad as if to say “this is what it’s all about.”
The rest of us just went nuts and cheered on as our hometown boy got his due. One word kept popping up to me: vindication.
All in all, it was a great culmination to George’s racing year. That night he tweeted that he opened a bottle of Dom when he got home. He then went up to Queens to watch the US Open with his wife Melanie and Craig and his wife Courtney, before coming home and “Having dinner with 25 of my family members from Columbia. Fun stuff.” (twitter). I’m sure that there were quite a bit of victory NOMs consumed by the Hincapie clan in the past 72 hours. Knowing the Colombian culture it may go on for a while, and that, friends, is a very good thing.
The interesting twist this was last race he’ll ever ride for High Road**: the winningest team this year and one that he helped pull out of the mire that was the T-Mobile team while acting the elder statesman by bringing young riders like Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen to the center of the cycling stage. Columbia and HTC will not get the domestic bump from having the Stars and Stripes jersey associated with their brands. Now, he’s going to BMC, who has risen from the ashes of Phonak and Floyd Landis*, to ostensibly try and take them to the next level as well. However, all business is not settled. With the signings of Ballan and others, I smell a classics campaign and a chance for George to finally capture his unicorn: Paris-Roubaix.
So, we here at Yummy NOMs would like to recognize Mr. George Hincapie as our first recipient of the soon-to-be prestigious Yummy NOMs seal of approval. I’m sure this will go into the trophy case right next to the USPros, the yellow jersey, and the Pla d’Adet win. Good on ya, George!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to load up on Team BMC gear (have you SEEN those kits?). Speaking of which, BMC makes some killer bikes. Anybody got an in for a team frame for a fanboy? 58 cm would do nicely…