You have to remember that at Monte Carlo, because of the nature of the circuit, you have to shift gears over 2,600 times during the race. That's an average of once every three seconds. No reason to expect gear-box trouble . . . on the other hand, potential problems are in the back of your mind at all times.
Pete Aron (James Garner) in 'Grand Prix'
There's a scar on the knuckle of my right hand. I picked it up exactly a year ago, on a beautiful day in the Algarve, when I pointed my bike at a roundabout near the entrance to Vale do Lobo and was sent crashing into the tarmac. These things happen?
Not to me they don't.
I've been cycling since forever; I haven't crashed in 30 years (the 11th stage of the 1989 Giro D'Italia on May 31, 1989 to be precise); and I've leaned into that roundabout and come out the other side at least a hundred times. But not this time. I'm on the deck. I've hit it hard. You can smell the grated skin.
And there's a reason I'm on my arse. Because that's the thing about crashing.
There's always a reason.
I watched Grand Prix on Friday. They don't make 'em like that anymore. I was four years old in 1966 when it hit the silver screen but the magic of those opening scenes in Monaco, still resonates. And what a cast! James Garner as Pete Aron, a talented but error-prone American driver, battling a mid-career drought at the Jordan-BRM team.
Yves Montand as Jean-Pierre Sarti, a charismatic Frenchman and a double-world champion with Ferrari. Brian Bedford as Scott Stoddard, an obsessive, smouldering Brit and the lead driver at Jordan-BRM. Antonio Sabato as Nino Barlini, a gifted young Italian and the second driver at Ferrari. And Eva Marie Saint, Francoise Hardy and Jessica Walter as the women in their lives.
Monaco is the opening race of the season. Sarti qualifies on pole but gifts an early lead to Stoddard as Barlini passes a struggling Aron for third. The American is having a gearbox problem and pits a few laps later, but the mechanics can't help. And Jeff Jordan, the team owner, isn't interested: "Let's try and get the season off to a good start? Shall we?" he fumes. "Drive the car! Don't try to stand it on its bloody ear!"
Aron is steaming when he returns to the track and pulls out just in front of Stoddard, his teammate and the race leader. He fights the Englishman off for a lap and ignores an order from the team - and a blue flag from the stewards - to let the leader through. And now Stoddard is pissed.
He's all over Aron's car as they exit the tunnel and clips his back wheel just as the American calls him through, catapulting Aron into the water and his own car into a wall. The outcome is catastrophic. Stoddard is rushed to hospital and is lucky to survive; Aron swims to safety and is immediately fired.
It's a couple of hours later when he finds himself with Sarti.
"I just talked to the hospital," Aron says.
"Yeah . . . Jordan says I was blocking, says I didn't give him a signal to pass."
"Did you?" Sarti asks.
"Of course I did. The gear box froze coming out of the tunnel and I waved him through . . . got on the brakes, locked up, and threw me in front of him. Next thing I knew, I was in the Mediterranean."
Because that's the thing about crashing.
There's always a reason.
Fabio Jakobsen is a 23-year-old professional cyclist. A year ago, at Ede in Holland, he sprinted clear from a bunch of 43 to win the Dutch Road Race Championship. Two months after that, he beat Sam Bennett and an even bigger bunch to win a stage of the Tour of Spain.
On Wednesday he was racing towards Katowice in the opening stage of the Tour of Poland where, according to the previews, a bunch sprint was the most likely outcome. That would have pleased and excited Fabio no end. He's big and fast, and has made his name as a sprinter. But he's not the only one.
Dylan Groenewegen is also from Holland. He's older and more experienced than Jakobsen and has won four sprint stages of the Tour de France. So it's fair to say he fancied his chances when he kicked for home with 100 metres to race in Katowice. And it's fair to say he had no idea it was his compatriot, Jakobsen, who was hunting him down. But someone was.
He could sense it.
Under his arm.
Coming from the right.
Then he did something he will probably regret for the rest of his life.
As memorable as the crash is in Grand Prix, it's the scene that follows that has always stayed with me. Pete Aron has changed into fresh clothes, watched his car being winched from the harbour, and presented himself at the hospital to visit his teammate. A nurse points him to a room where Stoddard is writhing with pain and bandaged from head-to-toe: "You bastard," he says.
And that's when it hits. The shock. The remorse. The price being paid - and the price Aron must pay - for his failure to respect the rules.
And so it is with Groenewegen.
He's in the centre of the road when he launches his sprint on Wednesday and has barely changed his line when he senses it for the first time.
Under his arm.
Coming on the right.
So he does what sprinters often do and 'closes the door' - changing his line to shut down the space between himself and the barrier.
But Jakobsen is still coming.
Under his arm.
Fast enough to win.
So he flicks his elbow and tosses his rival into the barriers which is also what sprinters do.
But the impact is sickening.
The barrier disintegrates, pulling both of them down and blowing a hole in the front of the peloton. Groenewegen slides across the line in first with a broken collarbone but is immediately disqualified. Will he race again this year? Jakobsen is awarded the stage but spends two days in an induced coma. The crash has shattered his windpipe, all of his teeth and almost every bone in his face. Will he ever race again?
On Friday, Groenewegen spoke to the Dutch TV channel, Nos, and looked absolutely shattered. "In a sprint you are not thinking about anything more than just crossing that finish line first. That's the only thought on your mind. I see someone is coming and I deviate from my line. I crash, am on the floor and others crash. It's mayhem," he said.
"You hear things you don't want to hear. I saw it was bad and I heard it was really bad," he said. "I saw his teammates standing around Fabio. I am sorry for what I did. Turning back time would be easy but it's a sprint and I made a mistake by deviating from my line. I didn't sleep last night. I can only hope Fabio recovers."
Sunday Indo Sport