Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Paradoxes In Bike Racing : Cancer, Safety & Global Warming

A reader drew attention through a comment in yesterday's post about inadequate safety in this year's Amgen Tour of California. Of course, he may be right. Evidently, I'm a little disappointed too at the harsh realities of the ATOC. Freezing torrential rain, crosswinds and reduced visibility easily add to the suffering and confusing elements in the racing. Which makes it very interesting to watch, don't get me wrong (I already know fan psychology when it comes to crashes mind you). But add to this some poorly functioning biking equipment, miscommunication through radios, and erratic driving behavior from motorists on the road and what you've got is utter chaos. It highlights the need for top notch planning in a big event such as the ATOC.

Isn't it ironic that Lance Armstrong, the world's cancer messiah, was apparently hit by a race photographer's motorcycle today in Stage 2 with 36 miles of the race to go ?
(he also crashed in stage 1 with 50 miles to go) Yes, he got up and finished fine, but with a banged up hip. There's no telling how grave the situation could have turned out. If this is the man who can help resurrect cancer afflicted people back to life, influence political decisions on Capitol Hill, or order helicopters to be flown away from the peleton on a whim, it sure will help if he lives.

Yesterday, there was widespread radio issues. And expensive bikes were being stolen from under people's noses. In today's stage itself, about 15+ riders went down, one of them taken to the hospital ending his hopes for a good season start. On the final climb on Bonny Doon road, some dope in a yellow jacket was seen happily running just inches ahead of breakaway rider, Carlos Barredo. What if he had a little too much to drink and didn't know what he was doing? Would the organisers of the race have stood still watching, to provide cheap entertainment to viewers as the man sidestepped in the wrong direction and crashed right into Barredo?

Interestingly, I read an article today reporting that transportation minded folks in Santa Cruz are urging race spectators to use alternative transportation like biking among others. That sounds all good. Except. Its cold. Its raining. And why should spectators drive around in hybrid/solar/bio fuel powered cars when teams and news media are polluting the air with their own umpteen gas guzzlers? The article quoted Piet Canin, of Ecology Action as stating about the opening day of the TOC : "There will be 60 tons of carbon foot print spilling into the air that one day." Question : How much of that 60 tons is contributed by team vehicles, news media, promoters, and organizers? It can't be too less, can it? Surely if you want 'green' to trickle down to spectators, the people involved more intimately with the event should start somewhere themselves.

Even if they didn't choose to go green, they need to at least learn to drive. Over the course of a 100 mile race, its obvious that racers would lose their line or choose to occupy significant portions of the road due to various personal and strategy related reasons. In times like these, how safe is it for news media to ride erratically, across and over the middle of the road, coming into near collisions with cyclists? Whats more important? Relaying images across the world or being concerned about the safety of riders?

Writing this conjures up images of all those nasty crashes we have seen in the peleton over the years. You'll probably find a good bunch of these on Youtube. As entertaining as it all is, its getting tougher for those who're actually doing the racing. Remember : We don't have to do the skin shedding at the end of the day. Neither is racing our prime source of putting food on the table. You can't stay obligated to contracts when you're down with bruises and broken bones half the year!

Additional Reading :

Question : Is It Easier or Difficult To Ride In The Rain?
Marcus Burghardt's Dog Accident
We Might As Well Crash
Tour of Cipollini (TOC)

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Ron said...

Some of the best images we have had from cycling photographers obviously involvs taking risks. How those risks are calculated riding down a road on a motorbike with a peleton at 40mph is something I have asked Graham Watson to enlighten us with. What rules are they bound by? Obviously we're still seeing motorbike-cyclist crashes even today so somewhere, something must be wrong or not followed.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree more. Keep safety the priority.

Phil said...

u forgot landis who also succumbed to his injuries and had to withdraw from the race. its a sad fact that we cannot see such talent perform.

Christy said...

Just imagine the number of plastic water bottles the riders dish out after they finish the drinks. I have always wondered whether anyone bothers about picking all that plastic up or does it just remain there? A 150 mile road race could have bottles strewn all over that length.

Anonymous said...

Levi crashed in the second stage