My compatriots in the admiration of the daily feats of strength, determination, and grace that are the elemental content of the great sport of professional bike racing will all no doubt have witnessed the devastating tragedy that took place during last Sunday's 104th edition of Paris-Roubaix: George Hincapie's dreadful crash out of the race from a prime position, and supported by two strong teammates who went on to place second and third overall before being stripped of their placing for crossing a railroad track inappropriately, or some such nonsense, was nothing short of total travesty.
The bottom line on Sunday was this, dear readers: our eternal bike racing favorite was once again knocked RIGHT OFF THE PODIUM by lady luck, who is nothing but a foolish old bitch not to be giving that worthy man his due.
I've mentioned it here before, and I'll mention it again: there is no man on two wheels who has done more to earn that victory. Bike racing is a crazy sport, and only a man with more dedication that I can personally imagine can dream of attaining George's level of fitness for the battles he must face in the saddle. George Hincapie puts every last bit of every single thing he's got into preparing for and riding that race. Year after year he rolls up to the line with his heart on his sleeve, and his money where his mouth is, and leaves everything on the road in his quest for the eternal sporting glory that will be his should he succeed, and every goddamned year something goes awry.
My friends, I swear to you all, I cried real tears when I saw him go down, and could not even bear to look at his sad, sad face in photographs. I cannot imagine what it must be like to prepare mind, body, and heart for that race only to be foiled by the likes of having his handlebars sheer right off the stem with only 45 kilometers to go. I can't even conceive of what it feels like to end that day, into which so many hours resembling nothing so much as the labors of Sisyphus have been poured, sitting on the roadside with a broken bike and a mangled shoulder, while some other guy rides into the velodrome victorious.
There's nothing really to say about all this, though, because as everyone who knows knows, almost just does not cut it in bike racing. Bike racing is all about objective and undeniable superiority. Coming in second, like George did last year in this race, is nice, but in the mind of a man who trained to win, it's no better than coming in as first loser. Crashing out of a race like George did on Sunday is nothing but agony when a guy knows in his heart that he has the form to win. Like I said, I can't imagine what it must be like to sit on the side of the road, and know it's over, again.
You know what I do know though? Despite that crushing defeat at the hands of fate, George will be back next year, and his desire and his heart will be as full of unalloyed commitment as it always has been, because that's the kind of man he is. That's how George Hincapie rolls.
Spending as much quality time as I have in the excellent company of bike racers has taught me so many incredible things, but none of them has shown me anything more surprising and profound than George has, with his genuinely amazing humility, essential goodness, and uncomplicated dedication to everything he does. He's an incredible person. However, it's that quality of Hincapie's, that endless willingness to cowboy up and work to be worthy of that victory, even though it has eluded him with an almost whimsical cruelty, time and time again -- maybe even because it has -- that makes him so ineluctably, and heart-rendingly heroic as an athlete.
I know it seems like so little, really, to win a bike race that most of the people reading this website have never even heard of, but George's yearly assault on the cobbles between Paris and Roubaix is as full of all the poetry of human endeavor as the work of any artist or poet, and on his bike, he is that poetry: absolutely focused presence, mind and body bound together by a singular will and extraordinary dedication, and it is a thing of beauty.
George will fight another day, and it will be freaking gorgeous. I can't wait to see him do it.