Tuesday, May 11, 2010


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.


  1. The speed goes up with category and this must negate part of the better handling skills.

    I read somewhere that the average pro is involved in a crash once every 8 races. Not good odds.

  2. I saw Hincapie crash once. Granted, he road for about 3-4 seconds with his handlebars held above his head before he went down...

  3. Aaron: Don't forget he was also on cobbles.

  4. As John Madden's voice likes to say in one of the old school versions of the Madden video game: "speed kills."

  5. There are no coincidences. It's all part of the law of attraction. If you think about crashing, or focus on not wanting to crash, you are still thinking about crashing and will attract it. If you think about riding safe and having fun, that is what you will attract. As for a believing that crap, you can choose not believe, but that doesn't mean it's not real.

  6. Better story for Kris here


  7. Apparently Bob doesn't plan on racing Leadville anytime soon. :) No Leadville for you!

    You have to admit though that the woman who competed under someone else's name in an older age category and who accepted the award for second place in the older category was pretty stupid. Criminal charges and felony stupid? No, but stupid nonetheless.

  8. Old school: I'm not going to argue your point about thinking about crashing versus thinking about riding clean. I think that has a lot to do with it. But whether it's supernatural or not, well...

    Bob & JZ: The prosecution over Leadville is asinine. Ken Chlouber is a world-class douchebag, and I will never go back.

    Bob, as to your point in the article about singletrack being the signature of any mountain bike race, well I'll go on the record as saying I don't care for racing on singletrack. You're racing--that means the faster racer should be able to pass. Singletrack makes that difficult. Ride singletrack for fun, race on two track and fire roads. I would never ride Leadville for fun, but it's a great course to race on.

  9. The Leadville 100 story sickened me. It's all over the place. Can't believe Ken took this matter to the police and for them to be charged with a felony.

    Plus, Ken disregards his own rules at every bend where money is involved, allowing racers to bypass the lotter if they pony up $2,000 for Carmicheal's camp, allowing racers to bypass the lottery if you pay $2,000 to Ken for his "organization", bypass the lottery if you famous, etc. Seems like Ken is a hyprocrite enforcing this rule to draconian results when he doesn't follow them.

    I agree these riders should be punished, but why waste tax dollars and ruin these women's lives? They returned the trophy and are banned permanently. I heard that Katie Brazelton, a teacher, lost jer job over these felony charges. Ken should take care of this issue directly and without involving the police. This is an amateur race, afterall.

    Between the exorhibitant price, the $15 fees just to apply, the non-refundable/non-transferrable fee, the questionable u

  10. Oops - posted before I finished. Just wanted to say that with the exhorbitant race fee, the fee just to apply to get in, the questionable lottery (how is it really determined? Nobody knows and it often looks biased), and now this felony prosecution, I think my support of this race is done.

  11. I like some doubletrack to race on, half and half is reasonable.

  12. ken chlouber is a total douchebag. his douchebagness is reason enough to never say another word about leadville, good or bad.

    he makes me want to take back every nice thing i ever said or wrote about the race.

  13. Since you asked me...

    Good article, it's a fair topic for discussion.

    I'll second SBJ's assertion that single-track is not required, and even not preferred by some/many, for MTB racing.

    And I'll go farther by disagreeing that MTB racing needs to be propped up. If something is dieing, let it die. The local amateur races seem to fill most people's needs. Mountain bikers are having too much fun riding to care about pro racing.

  14. Tongue slightly in cheek below.....

    I find it humorous that a few people who rarely, if ever race their bikes on dirt seem to like to race on double track.


  15. Bob: "I find it humorous that a few people who rarely, if ever race their bikes on dirt seem to like to race on double track."

    Perhaps there's a reason. I really want to race at Sundance this weekend. But I really hate that course. #1 reason? Too much singletrack, no place to pass.

  16. Oh SNAP! He may be stupid, but he makes a good point. Isn't this the 2nd or 3rd time this topic has come up with SBJ and KKris? To each his own.

    Personally, I've started passing on races like 5 mile ass in favor of races like Sundance, Deer Valley, Solitude, and the holy grail of racing: PCP2P (95% singletrack). Probably because I know the only way I'll beat anyone is by sitting up in front of them while enjoying the amazing single-track. Now, if only I can figure out how to beat JZ to the top of the pavement this weekend...

  17. JZ: I try not to think about that part, though I did not mean to imply I would be doing all the passing. Only thing worse than being stuck behind someone is having someone stuck behind you. Unless that person is someone you want to keep an eye on of course.

  18. SBJ, just giving ya crap man. Sundance is one of the worst courses for passing (and being passed). I definitely get more stressed anticipating races where passing is going to be difficult so the start becomes the most important part of the race.

    I always feel sorry for the lapped traffic late in a race that have all these amped up overly serious racers (like me) trying to get around them.

  19. Aaron: I'm just hoping not to crash in the first ten minutes like I did last year. I am going to race with snowshoes strapped to my back.