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Crashing Judgements

July 6, 2011

About 20 kilometers from the finish of today’s 173 kilometer TDF stage from Carhaix to Cap Fréhel, the announcer on French TV counted ten crashes thus far in the stage.  The crashes involved several to many riders at a time. One of the crashes left Jani Brajkovic of Team Radioshack like a rag doll tossed onto the pavement from a car.  I was terrified.  He didn’t move.  Race vehicles streamed past him.  The race doctor ran to him and talked to Jani as he lay there.  Still no movement.

Jani Brajkovic on the pavement, photo by Graham Watson

Until now I wondered why pro-cyclists frequently don’t get up right away after falling off their bikes in a crash (“chute” in French); instead, they lie on the pavement.  Of course I want them to get up to know they are going to be alright.  But there’s another reason I want them up and back on their bikes, if I am honest with myself.  I want them back in action, chasing to rejoin the peloton, because on the pavement they are losing precious time.

It feels a bit embarrassing to admit it wasn’t until I saw Jani today that I understood why a rider might lie motionless after falling from the bike at 30 mph.  He may not be sure what has happened.  Probably he takes an unconscious inventory of his body parts and the source of any pain before moving anything to see if it still works.  He could also be unconscious.

While it’s well-known that riders will fight all kinds of pain to stay in a race, especially the TDF, if a pro-cyclist doesn’t take care of the body that allows him to make a living from his passion for cycling, it’s a disaster.  This must factor into the decision of whether to get back on the bike or abandon the race after a crash.  The doctor and Jani decided it was better for him to sink onto the stretcher and go to a hospital by ambulance for examination.  The immediate inaction of lying still after crashing used to seem counterproductive to me, a giving away of opportunities.  But it’s not; it’s putting currency in the bank for future races.

It’s so easy for armchair fans and budding sports analysts to judge pro-cyclists’ actions with an air of authority.  I did this just yesterday in a tweet I sent in reply to a comment @inrng made about Alberto Contador’s finish in yesterday’s stage.  My comments relate to Contador’s attack on the main contenders as they ascended the Mûr (French for “wall”) to the finish line.

inrng: You know those films where asomeone has a gun that jams at the crucial moment with an empty click? Reminds me of El Pistolero at the finish (This was in my post yesterday)

butterflywriter (that’s me) @inrng I don’t think Contador looked good. Usually when he jumps, he drops more than today; he looked to be breathing heavier than usual

inrng @butterflywriter true, he was grimacing a bit today, same face as Flèche Wallonne, but he still did well.

As we settled onto the couch to watch the evening TDF TV coverage, I said to my husband, “When it gets to the Mûr, look at Contador.  Tell me what you think about how he was doing.”

Donald didn’t find any basis for the conclusion in my tweet.  He said, “They were all maxed out; they rode extremely fast to the bottom of the Mûr.  And keep in mind he almost won the race, finishing second. Usually if you’re hurting you can’t attack.”

Only the pro-cyclists we tweet about know whether they are feeling strong or washed out.  I’m more reluctant now to cast assessments on their performance.  It’s hard not to judge them.  It makes us feel good to think we know something, and it helps us process what’s going on in the race.  I hope for me from now on my motivation is more the latter, which is probably a sign of maturity as a fan and commentator on the sport.

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