A big bike racing crash makes a sound all of its own – a heady combination of high pitched clang as the carbon fibre bounces on the tarmac, squealing from tyres locked up solid and shouts of the fallen as they hit the deck.
I knew half way round the final lap that a major spill was inevitable… there was just too much energy left in people’s legs, coupled with too much testosterone as too many riders allowed the sniff of victory in the bunch sprint to override good sense.
As a result, I took a fairly wide outside line, horribly exposed to the wind but with plenty of room to escape any trouble. And trouble duly arrived. In spades. It appears an unnamed “well known switcher” was the primary culprit, his sudden sideways movement unnerving other riders and causing them to lose control as the finish line approached.
The carnage was such that prone bodies were still lying in the road by the time I made my way back to the finish area from my mini warm down. It looked absolutely ghastly, a Lycra-clad war zone, a ludicrous expenditure of blood and treasure wholly out of keeping with the meagre reward of a decent placing in a Surrey League chipper.
Silly old 4th Cats? Actually, no. These were men who supposedly should know better – mostly 3rds or better and not a man under 40, an age where even car insurers start to allow for a degree of sensible maturity.
To think that my first Surrey League vets race had been so… well, so sensible. Enough to persuade my team boss Mark to make his first foray into the vets world, a decision he probably regrets now since he came upon the crash at full gallop and ended up crossing the finish line face first on the road’s grassy apron, while shredding a tyre and damaging a pair of on-loan Enve wheels costing almost two grand…
I knew he’d gone up the inside so I feared the worst as I returned to the mayhem, but luckily his soft landing had enabled him to escape with ‘just’ a few sore limbs and some impressive grass stains on his jersey and bibshorts.
The worst affected were not so lucky; one poor chap from Southdown Velo remaining flat out on the tarmac even as we drove away 30 minutes after the finish. We passed his ambulance coming in the other direction as we exited Dunsfold… I understand he has a broken shoulder for his troubles.
Even my pal Paul Webb got inadvertently – and very painfully – caught up in it all. He was sprinting behind me but had taken the same ‘safe’ line up the right hand side, only for one of the spectators to step out directly in front of him in an effort to go across to the crash victims. She was bulldozed, he got a beat-up face and a shoulder injury that threatens his participation in the 2012 Marmotte.
Most people, Mark included, have seemingly shrugged this incident off as ‘just racing’. And I suppose to an extent I have too, since we’re both heading back to Dunsfold for more of the same this Wednesday. But how justifiable is this laissez-faire attitude? Should significantly dangerous actions be simply put down to the pell-mell nature of the sport at this level and left unsanctioned?
There was another tiny incident in the race that sums up the sort of idiots we have to contend with. On the penultimate lap I was riding on the left hand edge of the bunch, keeping a watchful eye but basically minding my own business, when some absolute dimwit in a predominantly brown kit (didn’t get the number or I’d have named and shamed, believe me) came past me on the left so close that I’d have struggled to fit a Rizla paper between us. And this when the bunch were towards the right edge of the road so there was room to drive a bus past me on his chosen side! The flinch this near-miss induced was such that Mark, who was behind us, actually thought he’d hit me. Six months ago it might have had me off – I’m a better rider now so all was OK, but that doesn’t justify the brainlessness of his actions. Oh, and having pulled off this daredevil manoeuvre he came to a halt two riders in front of me, still in midfield, and tapped along.
To be honest, I am starting to think I must be the only amateur bike racer who takes to the start line with the preservation of his health and livelihood – and that of his fellow competitors – as Goal Number One. I mean, is it really so difficult to sprint up a straight, four-lane road without causing a sickening, multiple ambulance necessitating pile-up? To take a quick glance behind before changing lanes? To know the difference between intimidation of other riders in the heat of battle and rank stupidity?
I used to think bike racing was no country for old men. Now I just think it’s no country for sane men.