A Ride with George Hincapie DVD
Name the five greatest moments of your life. Quick.
What are you afraid of?
Why haven't you won that criterium?
We don't have good answers to these queries. If we were asked these questions on a bike ride, we'd give a slight smile that indicates amusement and know that in the context of a bike ride with a stranger, we're not going to give profound answers. At the same time, we're happy to play along. A little bit.
Watching the preview for A Ride With George Hincapie DVD, we got that same feeling. Judging by the trailer, we got the sense that George might have been feeling the same thing.
Projection is something we all do, and Hincapie both benefits and suffers from it. He seems like an approachable, everyday kind of guy, friendly, polite, hard-working, not the most chatty. His glasses indicate he likes some flash, but after that, not so much. Many people we know refer to him as "Gentle George" independent of one another.
The flip side is when we see him come close to a victory yet finish "empty-handed," like second, or third, or fourth, or fading at the end for ninth. Then, we wonder how it is that a guy with so much talent "missed." Even though we see him as the guy next door, we also see him as a superstar. We seem to forget that he was ninth out of 200 and those 200 constituted the best racers on the planet and that even the ninth best player on a baseball team still gets credited with his team's victory. Likewise, even though we talk and talk about racing at the highest level being a team sport, we don't entirely give him his due when he's one of nine riders on the team of a Tour de France winner (which he did eight times) or when he leads out a teammate for six stage wins (as he did in 2008).
For all these reasons, we know Hincapie, but only from afar. He's not a blogger, he's not an exciting post-race interview or a known goofball. Cycling mags mostly offer up the same racing-oriented view (trains hard, sacrifices, tougher than nails, married a podium girl) over and over, while GQ and their lot isn't in the habit of profiling the Scottie Pippens of sport. Well-known, but unknown, a constant presence but a mystery. An enigmatic figure who doesn't seem an enigma.
George's family-run company, Hincapie Sports, is in the position of fielding queries about their multi-time national champion ever-ready racing presence headliner. While we gave up on such star-gazing long ago, plenty of people from all over the world write the company in search of answers about their hero. This movie grew out of that interest.
The ride is a gimmick. We love it. It harkens to Tim Krabbe's legenday book The Rider . What better way to get to know a cyclist than to ride with him? And the best rides for yakking are the long off-season ones, the ones on cool to cold overcast days when the beauty of a place is forgotten and you're talking to keep from getting cold and bored, talking about better things and better days.
So we start with George at home, in his cycling clothes, but eating breakfast, checking his phone, his computer, going to the garage to warm up on the trainer-mounted TT bike.
We hit the road, on a cold, overcast day, and Chusy, the director, starts asking questions. George starts answering. The doc is formatted into three segments, the past, the present, the future. The past being his history, how he came to be a pro cyclist. The present being his racing career, the future being what happens starting now to past the end of his racing career.
So, the questions. Even in context, they can come across as annoying and a bit stupid. "Tell me your life story…We've got like 20 minutes." But stupid can be effective. A question is a tool: if the questioner gets an interesting answer or the response he was looking for, that the query did its job. The interrogation works.
It also works because the movie cuts away from the ride many, many times. We see family movies of George's parents, of his father racing, a television news segment of thirteen year-old George already the best junior in New York, if not one of the best riders. We get George on the sofa reflecting, of other racers telling their stories of meeting him, rooming with him, etc.
We ride with George, as if flanking him on the left, and turning to see his profile, as he talks. Maybe not the most voluble person we've pedaled with, but he says more than enough to have a much better sense of the man behind the shades.
There are some surprises. He works with a life coach? Quite an eye-opener. Demonstrates how he's actively trying new things, something that comes up a few times in the film. Some things aren't surprising. He's not angry. It's interesting how that seems to come through.
The movie spends a decent chunk trying to dissect why George hasn't won Paris-Roubaix yet. "Too nice," comes up from many different people, something George disputes. The question is asked so much, you can see some annoyance creeping in, and he's adamant that he cuts people off on the run-in to the cobbles, but since he has to be hard at work, he doesn't like to be that way off the bike.
He does discuss some bad luck he's had over the years. Luck takes us away from the movie, which was completed this spring, to this summer's Tour de France. Stage 14. George gets in a few long breaks earlier in the race, but he's mostly known for his impeccable leadout of Mark Cavendish. Finally, he gets in a good break on Stage 14, it's a big group, and the group is riding well together. George rides into virtual yellow on the road. Then, many things happen. George ends up missing yellow by five seconds.
So much of who he is and what people think of him comes up in every discussion of the circumstances that lead to him missing yellow by those five seconds. His popularity in the peloton, amongst the racing entourage, amongst the public comes out. It had to be devastating for George, yet that bad luck came is way almost certainly part of why he's so popular.
But then we get worried that luck is for the rest of us and the "winners" go beyond luck somehow. Did you see "Bull Durham"? There's a discussion about how the difference between being a decent pro baseball player and a Hall of Famer is one hit a week. The crazy thing is that George is getting that hit in two out of every three weeks, or maybe three out of four. The guy is in at the kill, the final selection, more than often enough. That he flats or his head tube breaks comes across as tragic, but he's there time and again. Maybe the roulette wheel will land on his number, maybe it won't, but he's doing all the right things so often, the winning should be gravy.
So we're not going to concern ourselves with the five greatest moments in his life, the victories he's had or missed, the things he's scared of, what he wants people to think of him, and so on, but appreciate him as just another cyclist. That he can ride harder and longer is going to remain a mystery, but we like the guy we see on film. Still a bit of an enigma -- we never discussed women, movies, politics, or even dumb drivers -- but we like him. We're glad we took this ride.