TRIATHLON BIKE CRASH
A triathlon bike crash is more likely to happen as bikes get faster and race fields get bigger and bigger.
There are horrendous crashes in bike racing and it’s almost impossible to watch the Tour d’France without seeing several major pile-ups every single year.
Much of it has to do with the high speeds, narrow roads, pack racing, and finish line sprints where a victory can make a Tour cyclist an over-night hero in his country.
However bike crashes are not reserved to the Tour riders, avid bike racers, and casual cycling clubs. Triathletes have their fair share of big-time wipe-outs in both training and racing.
They are happening quite often in triathlon bike training and triathlon races as well and often can be avoided.
Most triathletes these days have a bike crash story to share and these days. There are virtually no Ironman Triathlon races anywhere in the world that do not have some sort of triathlon bike crash through-out the day.
TRIATHLON TRAINING CRASHES
I suppose if you bike often enough and far enough and hard enough, it’s only a matter of time before you take a tumble out on your favorite biking route.
I had four memorable training crashes during my 20-year Ironman career and in hind-sight two of them were my own fault and two were not. Both crashes that were my own fault were completely avoidable and for the most part were caused by pushing myself to the limit.
Often I would get so hot, tired, inattentive, and exhausted that I would get into the habit of letting my head sink too low and rest on the aero-bars and not look far enough ahead.
The problem with doing this is that you can cover a lot of ground in a matter of seconds. If you are looking 8 feet in front of you obstacles can come out of nowhere and you will be on top of them before you know it.
Once I hit a pot-hole so deep that I not only crashed, but I bent the wheel out of shape and had to limp 5 miles to my car.
Another time I hit a piece of lumber that must have fallen off the back of a truck and I ended up taking a major tumble. I was fortunate to avoid major injury in both these instances.
A CRASH FOR THE AGES
My most memorable and most unusual crash is probably very unique as far as triathlon bike crashes go. I had just spent $3000 on a brand new “Specialized” triathlon bike.
Considering it was the 1990’s that was a big financial outlay. I was really proud of that bike and took it for it’s inaugural training ride out in the country near home one hot Summer day.
I loved the 80k course because it was scenic with very little traffic. I got on the bike, headed to the first right hand turn less than a mile from where my car was parked and started a steep descent.
I was just picking up a lot of speed when I saw the road glistening up ahead and couldn’t believe what I was looking at.
Not minutes before I got to that downhill, an oil truck had lay down a coat of hot oil that covered the entire road. I discovered later that they often did that in the Summer months out in the country on the secondary highways.
I had nowhere to go and tried to stop but it was too late. I hit the oil and went down sideways and the hot oil was shooting up all over my bike and my clothes like a hot, black, greasy wave.
My shiny new bike didn’t even have 2 miles on it. It was coated in oil. I tore a chunk right out of my shoulder and blood and oil were dripping down my arm and off my finger-tips.
So this farmer comes by just minutes later in a pick-up truck and yells out of his open window. Hey! Need a ride slick!
Even at the time it was hard not to laugh. What else could I do. He put an old blanket in the passenger side and drove me back to my car with the white sheep-skin seat covers. Oh yeah!
The farmer helped me put my bike on the rack on the back of the car and gave me a few plastic garbage bags to cover my seat covers with.
I had a 45-minute drive from Hell back home. There was oil and blood everywhere. I spent almost two hours getting the oil off myself and my new bike.
I threw all my cycling clothes away. Then I went to the hospital. It will forever be burned into my memory how a nurse scrubbed that open wound with a brush and a pink disinfectant to get the oil out.
THE WORST TRAINING CRASH
My worst triathlon bike crash in training was 10 days before I was to take on Ironman Canada in 1991. I had a final bike tune-up done for the race and was on my final ride of any consequence before the big day.
I was on a gradual incline and standing up on the pedals and moving pretty fast in the final push up to the crest of the hill.
The bike mechanic who worked on my bike had not set the chain properly and it flew off the big chain ring.
I was thrown off balance and went right over the handle bars. I came down on my head and right shoulder and they took the brunt of the impact. My collar-bone snapped like a twig and everything turned black for about 10 seconds and then I came to.
My safety-approved helmet had spit right through all its layers. A passing motorist drove me to the hospital and the doctor would later tell me that my helmet most likely saved my life because of the force of the impact.
I had trained all year for the race that was just ten days away, had booked my room, had booked holidays and had high hopes for a great IM Canada. In an instant my Ironman journey for that year was over.
I did the only thing I could do and in a few days began training for the next year. Of course I couldn’t swim, but I could bike on a wind-trainer and could run by keeping my arm in a sling and immobile against my chest.
Still, for a week or so I could feel the ends of the collar-bone rubbing together until one day when I was running it stopped, and I guess that was the day it finally set.
TRIATHLON BIKE CRASH IN THE IRONMAN
I managed to get through 13 Ironman races without a single bike crash. However it was in my 14th and last Ironman in Couer d’alene where my luck finally ran out.
Couer d’Alene is a two-loop course and I was just about through the first 56-mile loop when I lost my concentration for just a second and slipped off the shoulder of the road at about 30kph. It was a sharp shoulder with about a one-inch drop between the road and shoulder.
My first instinct was to steer back onto the highway and that was a big mistake. That one inch was just enough to throw me to the ground in a heart-beat. In hindsight I should have stopped the bike and lifted it over the break in the shoulder and back onto the highway.
I got back on the bike and knew pretty much instantly that I had done some serious damage to my shoulder. I stopped at an ambulance at an aid station and they said it looked like a I had most likely had a separation of the AC.
At the time I wasn’t sure what that was but much like when I broke by collar-bone, I couldn’t raise my arm past my waist.
I couldn’t extend that arm out onto the aero-bar and couldn’t put any weight on it.
It was very challenging doing the next 56-mile loop with one arm because of the fast, sweeping downhill curves of Ironman Couer d’Alene on the bike course that year.
I didn’t want to DNF because I really felt it would be the last IM race of my career and the sport had been so good to me that I felt it would in some way dishonor the Ironman to drop out.
Once I made it to the bike/run transition I knew I would be okay because my injury became a non-factor and with a time of over 14 hours I finally reached the finish line of my last Ironman.
COMMON CAUSES OF A TRIATHLON BIKE CRASH
There are a lot of crashes within the first hundred meters of an Ironman race for several reasons.
1)The fields are getting bigger and bigger. Many people fall into a swim time category that brings them out of the water and onto their bikes with many other triathletes.
2)It’s quite normal to be a bit dis-orientated and perhaps dizzy for a time after leaving the water. You are going from a horizontal to a vertical position and it changes the blood flow until you get adjusted to being on solid ground.
3)For some reason many people are in a big hurry to leave transition and get out on that course. In reality most triathletes who are in the “middle of the pack” should be taking their time as it will be a long day out there and there is no need to rush. Rushing is a common cause of a triathlon bike crash.
4)I see this same mistake year after year. For some reason many people choose to leave their bike in a big gear when they park it in the bike rack.
In the din and the flurry of activity in the bike-mounting area it’s so congested and it’s much easier to get out of the area safely and you have more control if you are in a very “easy” gear. There is plenty of time to shift gears when you find some open space.
Crashes out on the course also happen for reasons that are repeated in just about every Ironman race.
1)First of all, most Ironman races have at least 40% –and sometimes more– first time Ironmen. Ironman bike crashes out on the course often come from inexperience.
Even though a person might bike hundreds of miles in training, it’s a bit different when there are hundreds of other triathletes sharing the road.
2)For the same reason as there is congestion as one leaves the swim/bike transition, there is also congestion in the early stages of the race.
It takes time to get spread out when there are more than 2000 people in the race. In IM Canada it will be over 3000 in 2011.
I was in Ironman Canada ten times over the years and pretty much every year there was a serious bike accident along the shores of Skaha Lake less than an hour into the bike. It’s a veritable traffic jam out there and you really have to hold your line and keep your head.
3)I don’t know how many times I have seen a water-bottle come flying out of a bottle-holder out on the Ironman highway. This can be deadly to the people behind you so it’s important to keep that bottle secured. One year I saw one bike hit a bottle and take out two other bikes when he lost control and crashed.
4)I learned that the safest place to be on the bike course was as far to the right as possible. So far to the right in fact, that nobody could pass you on the right.
Yes it is against the rules, and yes people do it anyway and it’s a big cause of triathlon bike crashes.
SO WHAT’S YOUR TRIATHLON BIKE CRASH STORY?
Have you ever had a training crash? Have you been in a race and had a triathlon bike crash or perhaps been in an Ironman and taken the big tumble?
Have you ever been injured so bad in training that it cost you your season? Have you ever been in a crash so bad that it forced you to drop out of an Ironman or triathlon of any distance because it wrecked your bike or wrecked you?
If you are in the sport long enough chances are a triathlon bike crash will happen, but most of the time they can be prevented just by taking simple precautions.
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