I went down yesterday. It was bad. After 13 years with no deck time, my number got called, and in a big way. I’ll be okay. My mouth took the worst of it; if I’m lucky, I’ll end up with a scar that gives me some rakish charm, which would be a real improvement in my case.
A few words about the crash itself: I was descending Tuna Canyon road in Malibu. Of it I once wrote that Tuna was where parachute ripcords go for training. Several kilometers of Tuna are steep, in the 14 to 18 percent range. It is where the one-off Redbull Road Rage event was held, where a buddy of mine with a full-face helmet and motocross pads hit 60 mph. It’s a place where a single mistake can require a payment plan. There’s a point on the descent, a final switchback, after which the road goes much flatter; the pitch is more like four percent. This is the section of road I was in, well past everything any reasonable person would describe as dangerous. I was apexing a small bend in the road and suddenly hit a patch of road that didn’t offer the same grip is everything else.
My rear tire slid. And big time. It was the biggest slide I’ve ever ridden out on a road bike. The problem is or was that once I steered into the skid and stood the bike up, I was pointed 45 degrees to the road. I quickly chose to avoid the enormous (we’re talking the size of an office chair) tree stump. Unfortunately, my plan to keep the bike rolling for as long as possible didn’t really pan out; I hit a bump and went over the bar, pounding my face into the ground. I spent the next 9 hours at the ER, but at least got the care of a really ace plastic surgeon.
I bring all this up for a few reasons.
- Yes, we’re aware that there was actual news in the cycling world yesterday. I haven’t had much time to read, so I’m going to let Charles tackle it, at least initially, in his next Explainer column.
- I’m not sure how much posting I’ll get done in the next week. I’m going to be okay, but I’m on a liquid diet and Percoset, which is a detailed way of saying I’m not at my best.
- The oh-so-overdue jerseys are due here today. I’d promised everyone who’d had the patience to keep waiting all this time for their arrival that I’d ship them the day they arrived. I’m thinking I might need an extra day or two. Bending over isn’t what I’d call comfortable.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve got friends who crash so often it’s a casual occurrence to them. Two of them in particular seem so okay with it that the lost skin, destroyed bikes and even loss of control don’t seem bother them. Somehow, they make it seem routine.
To be able to take skin loss and broken bones in stride is an obviously requisite part of PRO. I was never able to relax in the face of carnage. I always flinched at the sound of scraping metal as if I’d been goosed. It was a big factor in my decision to stop racing.
A few years ago, during the Tour of California, Levi Leipheimer crashed with Tom Boonen right next to him. Leipheimer disappeared from view and Boonen never flinched. He didn’t turn his head, look down, even shudder. The event didn’t even seem to register with him.
I asked him about it the next day. He told me, “It’s natural; it’s something you’ve got. It’s the same in the sprint, and I think a lot of the riders have that kind of concentration…. The moment you panic is the moment you crash.”
He confirmed for me what I’d known for a few years; I never had the PRO’s sense for pack riding. I didn’t panic, but I definitely flinched.
Illnesses achieve routine status long before we ever get on the bike and because they come on so gradually only the worst, most surprising news can shock us.
But I got one such shock this morning. My wife woke me at 1:00 because our little team captain was throwing up with the force of a fire hose. We got him calmed down, cleaned up, the bed changed and him back to sleep. I followed suit.
Just before I was to get up for my group ride my wife woke me again to tell me how she had been throwing up ever since we got the Little Guy back to sleep (that’s what, five hours?) and needed my help. Only three questions were necessary to conclude that they had eaten tainted grapes. The three of us were in the car on the way to the ER before the city woke.
Years ago I was in a race infamous for its 180-degree turn 150 meters from the finish. I’d done the race a few times and had yet to do well, or even enjoy it. After cresting a small rise we accelerated on the down toward the turn and a rider weighing a good 30 lbs. more than me bumped me hard. To keep my tensed body from pinballing back and forth between him and a friend to my right, I reached out my right hand and put it on the small of my buddy’s back to steady myself.
Of course, just as I put my hand on his back the peloton began braking for the turn. I was certain I was about to wear multiple chainrings in my back like some sci-fi cross between a human and a dinosaur. Visions of broken frames, bars and wheels danced around my head like so many cartoon birds.
I did the only thing I could; I pushed away from his back, careful not to push him to the right at all. It slowed me just enough I could take my hand off his back and get it back into the drop even while the rest of the pack was braking hard. By the time I exited the turn I was so relieved not to have crashed I didn’t even care that I was too poorly placed to contest the sprint.
The ER visit was a race of a different sort—one that lasted 10 hours—and I can assure you, this time I didn’t flinch. The surprise came when I realized I hadn’t felt quite that brand of relief since that nearly ill-fated race; that is, not until both my wife and son were belted in and I placed the car in drive to head home.