The Experienced Mr. Hincapie

The Experienced Mr. Hincapie

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Experience is something that we can only develop over time. We take it to imply there is some associated wisdom, garnered principally through those experiences that contributed that wisdom through hardship of some kind. As a society, we also refer to this as “learning from our mistakes”; mistakes make a much more convincing guide than does success.

I happen to be a semi-professional mistake-makerer, although I do feel as though I should have much more wisdom in my bones than I demonstrate. It sometimes feels as though all I make are mistakes. One gigantic snowball of mistakes that continues to build on itself with each successive heave down the snowy slope of life. At times, I fully comprehend the mistake as I’m making it, but soldier forth in the misguided hope that it will somehow work out for me despite my imminent failure. Other times, I’ll be certain that I’m right and true, only to discover later my fallacy.

The severity of all this mistake-making is lessened somewhat if one is able to learn from their mistakes and convert it into something resembling wisdom, as I optimistically believe I am. In fact, learning from my many mistakes is perhaps one of my greatest talents; it seems this particular  skill helps me forge long-lasting relationships and hold down jobs without getting fired for sucking so much.

George Hincapie and I have in common the fact that we are both “experienced”. But it is in this last respect, that of learning from one’s mistakes, that George Hincapie and I differ, aside from athletic ability and, I’m assuming, body odor. It is for this reason that being his fan necessitates that one be a masochist. Our hopes rise each season and for each classic, yet every time our hopes are crushed as we watch helplessly as he misses the opportunity to win.

Here is a rider of immense talent, not to mention America’s best hope for victory over the stones of Belgium and Northern France. As his career draws to a close, his huge potential remains unfulfilled. With one exception, when the stakes were highest, Big George repeated a chronic string of mistakes. Time and again, he would let the critical move go, look around for others to take initiative as the race exploded ahead, would mysteriously disappear from the front, or simply fall into a ditch.

A rider needs luck to win at the classics, but the most successful riders seem to make their own luck. Hincapie faltered each time victory was within his grasp, yet always found a locus of responsibility that lay outside himself. With the exception of his snapped steerer in the 2006 Roubaix, by and large, his were missed opportunities, with the prefect example being Stage 14 of the 2009 Tour. Hincapie was in a break which was set to place him into the Yellow Jersey when Sergei Ivanov broke free 10 or so kilometers from the line.

The bunch was bearing down on the group, and the gap was dropping quickly. As the gap neared the critical point where George might lose the buffer required to end the day in Yellow, he sat in the group and looked around for another to take up the chase. The bunch continued it’s unstoppable march and, sure enough, Yellow was missed by a scant 5 seconds. Afterwards, a downtrodden and bitter Hincapie blamed the Astana and Garmin teams for chasing too hard and stealing the jersey from him when in reality he squandered his chance by sitting on rather than taking the initiative to chase himself.

The Cobbled Spring Classics are one of the pinacles of our sport, and riders who specialize in these brutal races are few in number. Unless you’re Belgian, most countries boast few riders who are able to ride over the stones and stay in one piece, fewer still manage to arrive at the finish. Rare is the rider who can do so consistently. George Hincapie is the only American rider I can think of who fit this mold, and I’ve always loved him for it. But sadly he’s lacked the je ne sais quoi that would see him outmaneuver, outgun, or outsmart his opponents.

But I never stopped hoping. On the occasions that he arrived at the finish with the scent of victory on the handlebars, the excitement was palpable. Setting foot on the podium did nothing but bolster my belief that he would one day take either the Ronde or Roubaix, and it is sad that there appears to be little hope of seeing him atop the podium as his retirement seems imminent. It would have been glorious to see him atop the podium in Meerbeke or Roubaix, and if he races again next year, I will, against my better judgement, hold high expectations for him. So much for learning from my mistakes.

// Nostalgia // The Hardmen

  1. @roadslave
    What’s the zimmer frame for? To beat you to a pulp?

  2.  I knew this day would have come, luckily I still have till the end of the season to get used to the idea…

  3. And in the end that day is here.

    Thank you Mr. Hincapie.

  4. We may have been a little tough on Big George for his over-use of booties but most of us fans of cycling are fans of George. He was the American who loved the spring classics, especially Paris-Roubaix and now holds the record for Tour de France rides.  Chapeau George. Time to get a little fatter and hang out more. I bet it will be a weird transition for someone like him, who has been at this game a long time.

  5. Not over-use here…

    MSR 2012

  6. Err, MSR 2010…

  7. @Cyclops that’s really great.

  8. @Cyclops So win, sir!

  9. There is a ride with George Hincapie this October 27th. And other pros should be present.

  10. His was a great career – a real shame the Armstrong thing took place this week to overshadow his final race. 

    And he married a podium girl – which is cool.

    If I was a vascular surgeon I would be sending Big George my card.

  11. @Cyclops

    The father of my godchildren is from North Carolina and they will eventually move back there. He always says that when they move back my wife and I have to move with them. We probably will because nothing is really keeping us here, the riding/racing/weather is better in N.C. and the chances of running into Big George out on a ride jump exponentially.

    Would love to connect around Paris Mtn. or Lake Lure (Tour DuPont) area whenever you are in NC. George would be spotted on Paris Mtn. (Greenville, SC)

  12. @mcsqueak


    I agree with this… if this is your natural pedal stroke, great. Everyone has slightly different bio-mechanics. But I would argue there is nothing pro about purposely moving your knees above the tube as you pedal if that is not a normal part of your movement.

    Knitting your knees over the top tube is most likely losing energy from your pedal stroke. Although I do pull the knee inward on cornering and descending, but never thru the pedal stroke.

  13. @unversio

    If my stupid house ever sells.

  14. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I second @ramenvelo. It’s perjury that gets the American riders to talk. Of course, riders from other countries can be subpoenaed by an American court, lie, then leave and not come back to the U.S. as a means of staying out of jail. American riders have to tell the truth or risk going to jail just like Marion Jones did.

    I don’t think there’s a single sane American who will risk jail time to stand up for Lance. Now a business partner (read: sycophant) who’s large income depends on Lance-he might make the choice to lie and risk the consequences.

    I think what Big George did will ultimately save the sport, but cycling is going to have a HUGE corporate backing problem for a few years. And any extensive big media coverage by American broadcasters will probably go poof.

    I wonder what Trek, Oakley, and Nike will say and do. Oh, and RadioShack. I bet their PR directors won’t get much sleep this weekend.

    I think I see JV doing cartwheels in the hotel lobby.

    Lance is also on the board of FRS (invested)

  15. @Cyclops did Big George mention anything about the rules? He has made comment before hasn’t he?

  16. @Marcus

    @Cyclops did Big George mention anything about the rules? He has made comment before hasn’t he?

    Naw, he had just got off the cool down on the TT bike and looked pretty anxious to get in the team bus.  I said something awestuckingly stupid and he was like “Cool” and then bolted.

  17. @Marcus

    @Cyclops did Big George mention anything about the rules? He has made comment before hasn’t he?

    He called us out on calling him a pussy for wearing overshoes. Actually, his response made me love him even more; he just replied with a picture of himself, drenched in mud, cornering at Paris-Roubaix – wearing shoe covers. He said something to the effect of, “Roubaix, 2001. Are shoe covers acceptable under these circumstances?”

  18. George is a mainstay of this sport; very sad to see him go, but he can walk out with his head held high. Stud, though and through. As Gianni said, we were maybe a bit harsh on him but we were just trying to mask our undying love. We’ve never evolved past elementary school.

  19. @Pedale.Forchetta

    I knew this day would have come, luckily I still have till the end of the season to get used to the idea…


    Count ‘em: That’s two reasons to smile right there. Exceptional work.

  20. @frank


    I knew this day would have come, luckily I still have till the end of the season to get used to the idea…


    Count ‘em: That’s two reasons to smile right there. Exceptional work.

    I must say that @Pedale.Forchetta‘s artsy-fartsy B&W pretty much crushes my Idaho redneck point and shoot composition.

  21. Just this once Rabobank!

  22. @Pedale.Forchetta

    Not over-use here…

    MSR 2012

    Proper cycling cap wearing – dare I say Big Mig league. Respect.

  23. @frank

    That’s an awesome story, and I love that perspective!

    By the way.. you can tell he’s getting old. here’s a photo of him at the start of this year’s Ronde Von Vlaanderen… look at those varicose veins. Zimmer frame next?

    Man…those veins!

    I think they look cool. It’s like there’s so much Rule #5 pumping through there that they bulged up.

    The Stelvio of veins!

  24. Video: Hincapie wants to help young American riders

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