I have never crashed in a road race. In fact, I have only crashed once on a road bike. (I do, however, have a crash rate of about 50% in MTB races.) Some may think I may be inviting bad karma, jinx, or some other mystical bad fortune upon myself by saying this, but I don’t believe in that crap anyway. If I crash after writing this, it will have been a coincidence and nothing more.
The fact that I have never crashed in a road race actually surprises me. I have bumped elbows and shoulders, had my handlebars pushed by someone’s knee, touched wheels multiple times, and gone into the gutter on a tight right-hander to avoid the outside-in traffic closing off my line. I have seen crashes in front of me and heard them behind. Last year, someone crashed in front of me, and I ran over both of his wheels but somehow stayed upright. In other words, I’ve been lucky.
The typical field size in races I’ve done is between 20 and 40 riders. I’ve been in fields of 100 or so, and it’s much more dicey. Pro races with field sizes of 200 have to be that much more sketchy. I have no data to support this, but I would guess that the likelihood of crashing increases geometrically as the field size increases. It’s rare to watch a pro race that doesn’t feature at least one crash.
It’s not surprising to see pros crash. What is surprising is who crashes. It seems like the same guys are always going down, especially Horner, Leipheimer, and Vandevelde. Vandevelde’s had the worst of it, yesterday for the second consecutive time crashing out of the Giro on stage three. You’d think it’s an American thing, except that Lance doesn’t crash very often. Of course Lance doesn’t race very often, either, except in July. But Hincapie rarely crashes. Hincapie also has some mad bike handling skills—wonder if there’s a correlation?
The Cat. 5s are often mockingly referred to as the Crash 5s in reference to their lack of racing experience and comparatively poor pack riding and bike handling skills. But do they crash more often? That hasn’t been my experience. And if it comes down to bike handling skills, you’d think the pros would crash the least. Yet clearly they don’t.
My half-baked theory is that as bike handling skills improve, racers are more likely to attempt a difficult maneuver. A given racer’s risk tolerance may remain constant throughout his career. However, as his skills improve, and the likelihood of a crash resulting from a particular maneuver decreases, he may attempt that maneuver with greater frequency, leading to no net change in the number of crashes for riders in a given pack size. Thus the pros are no less likely to crash than a Cat. 5, and actually more likely to do so given the typical field size of 200.
But that still doesn’t explain why it’s the same guys who seem to most frequently go down. In many of the races, there’s one guy to avoid—can’t hold his line, seems to be not paying attention, squeezes his brakes too aggressively. Everyone tries to avoid him. Maybe Horner, Leipheimer, and Vandevelde can’t stay out of his way. And maybe I’m crash-free because I am him, and everyone gives me a little more space.
Regardless of why, VDV’s crash is a nasty bit of luck happening once again to one of the most likeable guys in the peloton. Here’s wishing him a speedy recovery and a successful tour.