Irish rider Dan Martin was forced out of this years Vuelta after a nasty crash on stage 7. As he put it:
“Sad to leave the Vuelta but can’t race with these birds flying round my head. I hit a hole or rock in the road. Down I went”
Each cyclist taking the start line at a Grand Tour knows that there is a reasonable chance they will crash at some point, maybe very painfully. Often these crashes have an element of spontaneous combustion about them. One minute everything is fine, the peloton is cruising along at a steady 40kph, seemingly without a care in the world. The next minute…….a touch of wheels, a careless spectator, a dog in the road (my personal favourite)…….and all hell breaks loose; 20 or 30 of the worlds top cyclists become tangled in a carnage of twisted bikes.
The professional cyclist who can peel themselves off the road and continue on their way in spite of serious injury has a golden opportunity to ensure their hard-man credentials are preserved for all time. The very best of these will be remembered for this and little else.
Take Italian Fiorenzo Magni who in the 1956 Giro d’Italia had crashed and broken his collar bone, and was no longer able to pull on the handlebars. He seemed sure to abandon the race, but in true hard-nut style he wrapped an inner tuber around his bars, gripped it between his teeth and used this for leverage. Despite passing out at one point with the pain, he managed what I think can accurately be described as a ‘gritty’ second place.
I suppose it comes down to risk and reward. If I went into work knowing that my day’s achievements might end in photogenic glory, being sprayed with champagne and kissed by podium girls, I might be prepared to take a risk or two.
Some guys seem to bounce. Mark Cavendish seems to have at least three or four flailing falls a season – 60kph, wheels touch, straight to the scene of the accident – yet he doesn’t seem to break collarbones, fracture pelvises and crack wrists (or if he does he hides it well). I suppose his build and muscle mass protects him as he hits the tarmac. Some of the skinny climbers on the other hand seem to crack bones just getting off the bike, the taller ones especially slim down to size zero and look like a stiff breeze might give them a problem.
So what happens when us normal people come a cropper? Well, if you’re anything like me, you haven’t got Cav’s muscle mass, and you’re not as skinny as Wiggins circa 2012 (by some margin). So when we come off we neither bounce nor snap like a twig, we just fall – confused and undignified – and hope for the best.
But for us non-pro’s there’s more to a fall than broken bones and road rash – it hits us square in the wallet. Picture Cav lying twisted in the road after one of his racing incidents; kit torn, bike bent. The team pass him a shiny new machine off the top of the car, good as new, and back at the hotel he grabs another pristine set of box fresh kit. A queue of journalists line up to tell him how brave he is – he even gets a massage.
Once we’ve dragged ourselves to our feet we take one look at our bike and assess the damage in pounds and pence. Crash too many times and it becomes a very expensive way of spending your time – cutting back on Cappuccino’s is not going to cover the cost of new set of wheels.
To compound the humiliation we have to phone the wife to pick us up. She answers in a tone of bored resignation – there’s only one reason why we phone whilst out on a ride – and we’re talking so how bad can it be? We say ‘don’t worry, I was just on my way back, I’m not far away’. By that we mean the way back from a 60 mile loop…so we’re 30 miles away…and we’re not walking that in cleats.So we sit by the roadside pitifully for an hour and a half while she negotiates the country lanes. We sense there are probably other things she’d rather be doing.
When half the peloton comes down mid-sprint in a pile of mangled metal it’s dramatic and brave; warriors of the road risking life and limb for glory. When we come down because our chain slipped and sent us groin first onto the top tube it’s …….well……expensive.