Thursday 21 February 2019

'Sometimes not even a helmet can save you'

Alex Dowsett from Britain of team Movistar in action during the 71st Tour de Romandie UCI ProTour cycling race in Aigle, Switzerland. Photo:Jean-Christophe Bott/ AP
Alex Dowsett from Britain of team Movistar in action during the 71st Tour de Romandie UCI ProTour cycling race in Aigle, Switzerland. Photo:Jean-Christophe Bott/ AP

Nicolas Roche, Tour of Romandie Diary

Friday, April 28, Stage 3: Payerne to Payerne (187km)

When I pulled back the curtains in my hotel room this morning, I could have been forgiven for thinking I'd woken up in a ski station in the middle of December, with a thick layer of snow covering everything in sight outside.

By the time I went down to breakfast, the continuing snowstorm meant that I resigned myself to a couple of hours' training on the turbo trainer for the day as I thought there was no way we were going to be able to race our bikes.

Even as we hopped into the team bus for the 25km drive to the start, I thought we were wasting our time, but when we got there the place was dry as a bone and there was no sign of snow in at all.

My team-mate Danilo Wyss is from the area and it was amazing to see the amount of 'Go Danilo' flags and schoolkids with banners out for him today. With the stage starting and ending in the same town, there was a huge crowd cheering us on all day and although we rolled off in just two degrees the temperature slowly rose as the day went on.

As our stage winner from yesterday, Stefan Kung, had also earned himself the green points jersey for his efforts, and set off with my green Oakley Irish champion glasses to go with it.

Today's stage was a bit like a classic, with a lot of hard little hills every few kilometres and although we had no ambition to do anything other than get our team leaders Richie (Porte) and Tejay (van Garderen) safely to the finish, the changing wind direction meant it was important to stay near the front all day.

A break of five went up the road after 12km but as today was the last chance for the sprinters to win a stage, there was little chance of them being allowed enough headroom to stay clear to the finish. The Bahrain-Merida brought them back a bit early though, which meant that others seized the chance to go on the attack in the last 35km.

British time trial champion Alex Dowsett eventually went clear about 5km later and with 10km to go had a gap of 30 seconds. Here, Stefan jumped up the road to take second in the intermediate sprint and add ten points to his green jersey tally.

The move wasn't planned but fair play to him for being alert enough to seize the opportunity when it presented. The rest of us stayed close to the front and lost no time in the final sprint which was won by my former team-mate Elia Viviani, some consolation for the fact that he won't be on the Sky team for the Giro.

With a stage win and the green jersey so far, this race has gone pretty well for my BMC team but the next two days will decide who goes home with the yellow jersey.

Tomorrow's mountain stage features three first-category climbs and a summit finish and is followed by a tough 18km race against the clock on Sunday so hopefully we will be able to get Richie and Tejay up there.

After today's stage, I read the news of young American rider Chad Young, from the Axeon Hagen Berman's team. Having suffered serious head injuries in a crash at the Tour of the Gila stage race in the USA on Sunday, his team released the devastating news that the 21-year-old is not expected to recover from his injuries. Any of us who race a bike for a living, with just a layer of lycra and a helmet to protect us, are under no illusion that the roads are a safe place.

It's rare to ride a race where some sort of crash doesn't happen, whether it's a huge pile up in a fast bunch sprint finish or a single rider running off into the ditch due to lack of concentration, but thankfully, more often than not, you get away with a few scrapes and bruises and you try and put the more serious stuff to the back of your head. This week, however, it's been hard to do that.

The news comes just a few days after Italian pro Michele Scarponi was killed when he was hit by a truck while training near his home. For the past few years I've spent a few weeks training in Livigno, climbing mountains and sleeping at altitude.

Usually during this period whatever pro or amateur riders are in the area at the time would meet once or twice for a long seven-hour ride followed by a dinner with all of our families.

A couple of times, Michele Scarponi joined me on this training ride and we'd all have dinner together that night. While I can't say that I knew him as well as others did, Michele was a friendly guy, a family guy who was always smiling and joking and he will be missed by everyone.

shocked Both of these incidents have shocked and saddened me and everyone else in the pro peloton this week, but I can't imagine how both riders' families, friends and team-mates have been affected.

Stuff like this reminds us how vulnerable cyclists are as road users in general. For me, training is more dangerous than racing. I've been knocked down by cars a few times over the years but have thankfully been lucky to get away with minor injuries. I've recently bought a couple of city bikes for my wife Debbie and I to get around at home but, to be honest, the last week or so has me contemplating whether we will ever use them or not.

Maybe that's a bit of a knee-jerk reaction but lately everywhere you look on the internet there are videos and posts of near misses and accidents involving cyclists.

I don't know whether that's because social media spreads the news faster or more of these type of incidents are happening due to larger volumes of traffic, more cyclists on the road, people using their phones or whatever, but it's really made me question my safety a couple of times.

Years ago it was cool not to wear a helmet. I remember riding around the seafront in the summer wearing a bandana, thinking I was so trendy.

When I turned pro in 2008 it was written into my contract that I had to wear a helmet while training and today I wouldn't ride to the shop for a baguette without one. Sometimes, though, not even a helmet can save you. My thoughts and prayers are with Michele and Chad's families.

  • Tour of Romandie, Live, Eurosport 2, 3.0

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