Artist Andreas Fischer on George Hincapie’s Last Race
In the 1993 amateur national road race championship in Dublin, Ohio, I was hanging at the back of the pack toward the end of, I think, the second lap in disbelief about how fast we were going up one of the climbs. There were still a big number of people in the main field and everyone seemed to be going wild up the climbs at this point. I had come into the race feeling confident, having managed a second place at the circuit race that many of the same guys had used as a warm-up the day before. At this road race, though, it felt like we were in an all out sprint going up that climb. Some of the guys at the front were already taking shots at each other and it seemed like it was time for anyone who wanted to be a factor in the race to get up to the action. The wind must have been coming from the left because I remember being slammed over to the right side of the road far enough that I was riding on dirt some of the time. I have a vague memory of guys elbowing each other around a bit and shutting down lanes as we all struggled to move up. At one point I remember a tall lanky figure in a national team kit riding a national team issue GT Road bike (the kind where the seat stays hit the seat tube a bit lower than usual and continued until they connected to the top tube just in front of the seat tube—not completely unlike the less-conventional silhouette of a BMC frame today) coming by on my right fully in the dirt and loose gravel at the side of the road. He turned his head slightly and said, “excuse me,” in a genuinely polite manner as he squeezed his way by and floated up to the front. The rider was George Hincapie. I was in big time pain, but I remember thinking three things as I faded from contention: “how in the hell am I supposed to keep this up for 80 more miles?” Why did I swap my 175mm cranks for 170s last week?” and “damn! that guy seems nice!”
Today I turned on the last stage of the US Pro Cycling Challenge while I was watching my son and catching up on some work. I just happened to turn on the race as Hincapie was finishing his time trial, his last professional race ever. Maybe Hincapie was a bit too nice, too loyal at times. But regardless of whether we find out someday that he was mixed up in some of the difficult things cycling has been going through, as someone who dreamed about a career as a professional bike racer and who probably learned on that day in Ohio that he was not on the level of those few who really could make their livings racing (although the denial continued for years), I lived my professional career vicariously through riders like Hincapie. Having had the chance to participate side by side with some of them briefly, I gave it a shot until it was time to simply admire their abilities.
As Hincapie neared the finish of his time trial today, he passed one last rider and waved to the crowd. I sat with my son in my lap wondering what life would be like now.
Andreas Fischer is a Chicago-based artist, educator and the only member of the Tenspeed Hero / JP Graziano Racing Team to have raced alongside George Hincapie.
(Image of the GT National Team Bike by Bryan Clark Smith)