As you've no doubt seen, heard, or read by now, Tom Boonen won Paris-Roubaix yesterday for the third time. Meanwhile, George Hincapie, the Eddy Merckx of dejected post-race interviews, finished in 44th place due to an untimely puncture. (George Hincapie is also the Eddy Merckx of untimely mechanical problems.) Dejectedly, Hincapie told both Versus viewers and the "Twitterati" that he's "not going out like that" and that he'll be back next year:
I admit I'm one of those people who maintains hope that Hincapie will one day win Paris-Roubaix, despite year after year of punctures, wheel failures, broken steer tubes, poor team support, and headlong spills into muddy drainage ditches. I'm also glad to see that Hincapie himself remains undaunted and intends to return next year, despite a Classics campaign that can best be described as "tragicomic." After all, there's a fine line between determination and futility, and I feel that when it comes to his Roubaix bids Hincapie balances himself upon this line perfectly, like seven Chinese gymnasts on a bicycle.
So once again, I find myself struggling to come to terms with the fact that Hincapie's Roubaix went characteristically awry, and a crucial component of this struggle is understanding how exactly Tom Boonen won. At first glance, this would appear to be simple. Boonen's victory was just a combination of natural talent, good preparation, good luck, smart riding, and a strong team, right? Well, those things might be part of it, but it takes more than that to win a bike race. Specifically, it takes a good bike. Even more specifically, it takes a good bike with a bottom bracket shell that's...beefy. And this year, Boonen came to Paris-Roubaix with one of the...beefiest bottom bracket shells ever wrought by human hands:
I couldn't find any pictures of the bottom bracket shell on George Hincapie's bike, which leads me to suspect that it may not have been...beefy enough. But I also suspect that Hincapie's problems were not caused by insufficient...beefiness alone. When it comes to bike racing, the most important factor of all--more important than a strong team, or good luck, or proper training, or even a...beefy bottom bracket shell--is an inspirational nickname and matching top-tube decal:
We've seen the power of decals in the past. How could anybody possibly lose a bike race on a bicycle equipped with a decal like this? Not only does it feature an alliterative weather-themed nickname, but it also features a cartoon tornado leaving a rainbow-hued path of destruction in its wake. In fact, of the three podium finishers yesterday, two had weather-themed sobriquets:
Not only is Tom Boonen "Tornado Tom," but Thor Hushovd, who finished third, is often called the "God of Thunder." Thunder. As far as I know, Filippo Pozzato does not have a weather-themed nickname (his nickname is "Pippo), but he does have both a techno-tastic Euro-style website and a Jheri curl hairstyle, which when taken together constitute a weather event in and of themselves--that being a "cheese storm." So considering Hincapie was up against a tornado, thunder, and a cheese storm (which, coincidentally, is the combination of events which caused life to emerge from the primordial soup), poor Hincapie didn't stand a chance.
At this point you may argue that nicknames need to be earned, and that Tornado Tom is only Tornado Tom because he's already "stormed to victory" a bunch of times. This is ridiculous. A professional bike racer should be given every advantage possible. Does Hincapie's team make him ride a crappy bike just because he hasn't won Paris-Roubaix yet? Of course not--he's given the best equipment to which the team has access. So why couldn't his team give him an awesome nickname too? The only nickname I ever hear for Hincapie is "Big George," and putting "Big" before a person's name is the lamest, most rudimentary form of nicknaming there is. It's like repairing a bike frame by wrapping duct tape around it. So since this is possibly the bell lap of Hincapie's Roubaix career, it's essential that his team provide him with a professional-level nickname before that metaphorical final sprint next year.
I'll be the first to admit that this is no easy task, principally because George's name starts with "G," and there's not a lot of intimidating weather that starts with "G." Actually, the only thing I could come up with was "graupel," which is sort of like hail. However, "Graupel George" doesn't sound particularly intimidating. Also, according to Wikipedia, graupel "will typically fall apart when touched," and while that might make "Graupel George" a fitting nickname in the context of his previous Roubaix attempts, Hincapie really needs a nickname that's going to allude to his strengths rather than underscore his weaknesses. The other possibility, of course, is to use his last name instead of his first name, which obviously clears the way for "Hurricane Hincapie." However, not only is this too long and unwieldy for top-tube use, but it's also likely to backfire in the form of providing the basis for jokes about how hard he blows.
As such, it's worth looking at where Hushovd and Boonen got their nicknames. Obviously, Hushovd's is mostly luck, since he's Norwegian and his first name is Thor. However, Tom Boonen's is a bit more esoteric. Sure, the alliteration might seem obvious, but my research reveals that his nickname is actually lifted from a 1940s superhero:
Here is the story of Tornado Tom's origins:
Swept up by a tornado, the man who became Tornado Tom spent several hours "whirled above the Earth", before finally coming back down to ground unharmed save for amnesia. The only clue to who he had been were the farmer's overalls he wore. Discovering his experience had given him superhuman powers, and with no life to return to, he became a crimefighter.
Now, I'm not a comic book fan, but I'd be surprised if there were another superhero with a more boring backstory. Incidentally, slightly more interesting than this amnesiac farmer-turned-crimefighter is Tornado Tom's British counterpart, simply called "The Tornado:"
Here's his story:
Steve Storm harboured a great secret - the thirteenth member of the Storm family, he escaped the Curse of Grosta after 500 years. As a result "the mighty force of the Storms thundered into the soul of Steve, that this young hero might, at will, transform into the giant superman of justice, whirlwind prince of the storms - Tornado."
The Tornado is even more exciting than my previous favorite British superhero, Slightly-Above-Average Man, who possessed a superhuman knowledge of postal codes, the ability to fry kippers with his mind, and the power to predict bus arrival times with deadly accuracy. In any case, it's too bad Hincapie wasn't born with a convenient name like "Steve Storm," because that's got weather built in, and all you'd have to do is put a "The" in front of it, making him "The Steve Storm." You really wouldn't even need the tornado part at all.
Since this isn't the case, maybe Hincapie should just use his bike porn name. Then he could be Scott Blueridge. It's not intimidating, but at least it's slightly suggestive.