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.
Because of my current transient state, I have not been able to watch a single stage of this year's Tour de France... Until today.
Here's what happened:
Isn't that beautiful? I can't believe Big George won the QUEEN STAGE of The Tour this year. That just totally rules, and no one deserves it more. The best part was how he got all emotional in the post stage interview. That is SO SWEET.
In the interest of going from one topic which, I'm sure, all of you are finding absolutely riveting, to another that I know you can't wait for me to revisit, this past week marked the first time in years that I haven't been in Pennsylvania for the first week in June to enjoy the fantastic and myriad charms of our American boys in lycra, as they duke it out for the first three US ProCycling Tour events of the year, and the US Pro Champion's jersey.
I have to admit that I was a little sad. Still, my Dad called from the roadside with a blow by blow all three days, and I am proud to say that my predictive powers as to whether or not a break will be caught are completely in tact. This would have been a very satisfying year for me, because it was an all-American podium, and the guy that won, Chris Wherry, is one of the nicest guys in the sport, and also one of the ones with the hottest rigs... if I do say so myself. The other two up there rule pretty hard as well - Chris Horner (in yellow) and Danny Pate (in Jelly Beans) are two of the most delightful and entertaining individuals you could ever hope to meet.
Ah, cycling. I wish I could have been there. Unfortunately, it would have conflicted with the Nine Inch Nails concert, and well, since that's been averaging somewhere south of happening just twice a decade, the choice was clear. Sorry, boys.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Big George won the prologue time trial in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, and still wears the leader's jersey after today's stage. What a superstar that guy is. There is no one in the wide world of sports I love to see win more than that sweetiepants. I sent him a single sentence of congrats and got back a whole pile of exclamation points, so it sounds like he's chuffed with himself. It's hard to imagine how such a fat load of charm fits into one body, but somehow, he manages.
I'd like to interrupt my regularly scheduled carrying on to mention that Big George Hincapie finally mounted the Paris-Roubaix podium on Sunday, with his best ever finish in 9 (or is it 10?) tries with a second place on Sunday. So close! If any of my bike readers are out still out there, I'm just saying, HOW COOL IS THAT?
George, as those of you who take an interest in such things already know, totally rules. Anyone who's lucky enough to know him even a little knows what comes next: "I'm satisfied, yet disappointed at the same time... This gives me even more motivation to come back here and win next year."
The men's Olympic road race is today, and the startlist is so money that this sports fan can barely stand it. Among them, this charming individual and his big, bad sunglasses:
I know you're all on the edges of your seat on this, so here's the Men's Olympic Road Race Update: Big G. made a powerful move with about 30km to go on the pavé, but he was soon caught. In the end, it was that little tiny Italian munchkin Paolo Bettini - a hot favorite for this race - who took the gold, Portugal's Sergio Paulinho suprised us with a great ride for silver, and Belgian Axel "Big Sexy" Merckx, rounding out the podium in bronze... and looking charming in olive wreaths, as you can see below:
Photos from AFP
George rode a good race (as always!), but he finished with the bunch, 12 seconds off the winning pace, in 24th. Alas. Best American was Tyler Hamilton in 18th, Bobby Julich was 28th, also in the pack. Levi Leipheimer and Jason McCartney did not finish. Out of 144 total starters, only 75 finished... it was hot over there in Athens.
I Love to Fly:I took the red eye to New York City last Wednesday. I had to go to work that day, but I didn't want to miss a moment of precious daylight in the city, so I slept on the plane for about 3 hours and resolved to hit the ground running. I awoke as the pilot was announcing that we were approaching our destination and looked out the window to see that the eastern horizon was only a narrow band of gold and blue between the darkness of the earth and the night sky above and behind us, still inky black and dotted with stars. On the way back, there was the usual blanket of clouds, but heading west, we flew into the night, level with a bright moon, not quite full. I rested my cheek against the cool of the window. The sky was black, and sparkling with all the stars you can't see in the city, and I realized that I really love flying: that feeling of being between places, just carried along ("Fallin' asleep against the window pane..."). It's scary to be suspended so high above the earth, but it's beautiful, too, and I love the feeling of traveling between almost more than anything else.
Those Bike Monkeys are so Heart-Warming: My trip to New York was to cover a bike race that takes place in downtown Manhattan at the intersection of Wall and Water Streets. As usual, it was loads of big fun, and also like usual, it was a pure pleasure to see all those good creatures. Here's a picture of the big winners of the day, each one of them a HUGE champ. This picture cracks me up, because here they are submitting to the cameras and questions from the press, having just ridden 100kms in the boiling heat; they're tired and unwashed, but still so good-natured. Just look at them all, their hands in their laps. Such good behavior! This is a bunch of great kids right here, and I feel lucky to know them.
Ivan, Greg, Freddie & Gord on their best behavior
Things I Overheard in New York City: In front of the entrance to the underground parking structure at the Red Cross in the Upper West Side: "You don't know what you're talking about. You're going to have no teeth, and no fucking eyes." At St. Mark's Ale House: Black college kid in basketball clothes and a 'fro tied back with the footballer-style rubberband-y thingy: "I was on the internet, yo." Slatternly barmaid in very short skirt, shakin' it to Buckcherry, one finger pointed skyward: "I love the cocaine, I love the cocaine..." Betty, banging her head against the bar: "Just one. good. bar. Please!" Kid: "I got 1160 on my S.A.T.'s!" Barmaid, singing: "More than a feeeeling..." Kid: "Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo." Danny Sullivan: "I work construction at Giant's Stadium." On C Street, heading to meet Mr. RCJohnso at Neue Blue: Young blonde hipster kid: "When I got off the boat, I realized that he had probably been sleeping with a different guy every night!"
I LOVE The Italians!
Italians! Denis & Marco in NYC
While in NYC, I had drinks with two of the Italians in town for the bike race. They went to the Upper East Side to a restaurant where a friend of theirs from Italy was working, and we met them in time for a nice glass of Chianti and some espresso. Denis was a bike racer, and Marco is a masseuse for his team, and both of them were absolutely charming, with hilariously done hair, sculpted eyebrows, incredibly fancy get-ups such as no straight American man would ever wear, and silver shoes. They were spun in circles by the girls of New York - effusively animated, way too honest, and approaching the entire universe with a generosity of spirit that just charms me half to death. When I go to a bike race, and the Italians have come to town, I always know that the fun will be multiplied by 300%. Best of all: very little English, so it's impossible to accidentally gather too much information! I've simply GOT to visit Italy. I have a feeling it's a very nice country. Marco tells me that if we arrive before December, he'll still be single! Just the kind of thing a girl loves to hear... er...
Betty and I Were Sometimes Drunk:
Drunk girls waiting to board the Night Train
Another Photo, While We're at It: Betty and I had lunch with the inimitable Mr. RCJohnso in the Upper West Side. He met us on the street corner just outside of the 76th Street subway station, and it was brilliant to see him out of context like that. Moreover, he was especially fetching, enduring the humidity in a thin sheen of sweat and excellent, shaggy, leonine hair. Is anyone more charming? I think not.
Rian begs to differ.
The Village: I'm going out on a limb to say that I really liked it. It's true that Suge Night Shamalamadingdong's obssession with plot twists is a bit played out, and also, that his films often ultimately fail to hang together in some essential way; but like many of his other films, it had some really lovely moments, and I liked the things it made me think about. For instance: the way our imagination of what things could be is often out of step with the way they are - you know - the notion of a utopian dream, and the fact that it's essentially inarticulate, and at odds with human nature. That theme was (perhaps inadvertantly) especially well illustrated in Adrien Brody's turn as the drooling village idiot. It's always a pleasure to consider how excellent an actor Joaquin Phoenix is, and he gave me ample opportunity. I also really enjoyed the romance in the film, and the fact the most innocent one of them commits the crime, and that the entire community had to take a blind chance on love not only to survive, but also to redeem the bloodlessness of their society. So, in short, far from perfect and in many ways a bit ham-handed, but I still liked it.
Also, it was pretty. Pretty pictures are always nice.
Please note the eyebags. It's only been three days. Already I feel like I need 12 straight hours of sleep, and all I do is write a really dumb daily column. 18 more days of getting up at 5:30am to watch sports on TV to go, and man will I bummed when it's over.