And I'm a crappy journalist. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember hearing about how Jim Patton relegated George Hincapie out of a win at Pro Nationals. After the interview I did with Jim on GamJams appeared last week, another of my (few and far between) elders said "hey, great interview but you blew it and forgot to ask the Big George question." This told me two things - one, the story had to have some semblance of truth to it since the two people from whom I've heard it are reliable sources and two, I'm a pretty crappy journalist.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to ask Jim about the incident on Sunday at Page Valley. Here it is, as straight as I can give it:
In 1997, Nationals were being held on the Philly course, which consists of a long circuit followed by laps of a shorter circuit downtown. George, riding for US Postal, had gotten a flat early in one of the early loops, near Logan Circle. Mark Gorski was driving the team car. The wheel change took a long time, a la Jens' wheel change in Le Tour this year. Long enough that the caravan had passed by the time George was rolling again.
The one day race rules differ from the stage race rules in that the penalty for drafting team cars in a stage race is monetary, plus a time penalty can be assessed. In a one day race, it's disqualification. In any case, Jim and another ref observed Gorski motor pacing George up to the field, which took nearly half a lap. George reintegrated with the field at about Lemon Hill. Jim and the other moto ref were discussing what was going on as it was happening, one of those "you're seeing this, right, it's not just me?" type of deals. They agreed that the move was seriously not kosher, and warned the offenders multiple times that they needed to stop. In Jim's mind, George is DQ'd - no question.
Fast forward to the finish line, where George finishes third. Third? you say? Yes, third, because at that time the race was open to people from other countries, and the US jersey went to the highest placed American, which in this case was George. Meantime, Jim is driving to the moto pit to ditch his bike and go to the scorer's table to submit his DQ ruling. Now get this - in the time it takes Jim to get from the moto pit to the scorer's table and confirm his intent with the other officials, they've already gotten George on the podium, zipped him into the jersey, and he's doused the crowd with champagne (much like is done at that other preeminent domestic race - The Lost River Classic) and he's about to marry the podium girl. Huh? So Jim says "no way Jose, we DQ'd George on the course for illegal motor pacing." Ruh-roh Rorge! Pour the champagne back in the bottle, take the ring off the podium girl's finger, unzip the jersey and do it all over again. The National jersey was instead awarded to Bart Bowen, who finished eighth.
Some may say that it's not right for an official to "decide" a race this way. I say phooey to that. We have refs for a reason, and that's to administer the rules of the game in order to keep us safe and keep the game fair. If you've met Jim, you know that these are his intentions - he's not in it to talk about it ten years later and brag "oh I DQ'd Hincapie." I kind of had to drag the story out of him.
The impressive part to me is that this is the same Jim Patton who watches my rapidly approaching middle-aged ass wheeze all over the place on Sunday. It's kind of like having the ref crew from the NBA finals work the finals of your three on three league. We are lucky in MABRA to have a corps of officials who've gotten an inside look at the game being played at a higher level than 99% of us will ever see. One of the highlights of promoting a race (if indeed there can be a bright spot to the psychic equivalent of being beaten with a pillowcase full of bars of soap) was meeting Kevin and Jim and all the rest of the people whose motors I don't want to hear when I know I've been dancing a little too close to the yellow line. They're great people, more dedicated to the sport than most of the people who do it, and that's one of the many reasons why Jim deserves your support in the USA Cycling Trustee elections. Voting closes on the 15th, so vote early and vote often but VOTE NOW!!