Watching Jens Voigt slide along the rough pavement of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard during July’s Tour de France couldn’t help but wrench the stomachs of anyone watching. Any crash on a bicycle is far from pleasant. Voigt’s on a high-speed decent was horrifying. The slide along the pavement seemed endless. Photographs were gruesome. Voigt’s right orbital bone was broken. He suffered a concussion. Deep gashes on the right side required stitches and a titanium plate had to be inserted in the upper portion of his mouth.
Voigt has always been one of my favorite cyclists riding for my favorite team, Saxo Bank. While Voigt has won a number of races in his long career, Voigt is known more for his unflagging loyalty to his team’s needs. If a breakaway were needed to force other teams to ride much harder than they had hoped, off would go Voigt.
Breakaways are generally flights of flamboyance. Most fail. Voigt’s breakaways are far from that even though they often fail. His breaks are technical in a very painful way. He’ll push as long and hard as he can forcing everyone to chase. When caught, he’ll be dropped off the back by the rushing peleton. Then finding hidden energy reserves, Voigt will head right back to the front to pace other teammates as long as his muscles and lungs allow. The respect that Voigt has earned from the other riders is completely justified.
Today, when the weeklong Tour of Missouri started and Voigt rolled up to the starting line for the first time since that crash, every professional cyclist in St. Louis had to be happy to see Voigt back on his bike.
Flashbacks don’t happen often for me, but I had a big one as Voigt was savaged by the Tour crash. It’s been just a little over a year since I had the worst crash of my cycling career, in a very small way, something like Voigt’s.
Voigt crashed when his super-stiff racing bike hit an unexpected bump in the road throwing the rear out from under him. Mine started when a black lab roared straight off a farm road into my front wheel. The big difference? Voigt crashed on a steep decent traveling at over 50 mph. I was on a flat, four-lane stretch of Hwy 24 going 23 mph.
Voigt can look back at the video of his crash. You can do the same here if you have a strong stomach. I sure do wish I could see video of mine. Here is what I remember, all of which took just seconds. Dog…dog into wheel…flying over handlebars…knees hitting pavement…then chest…finally face. As fast as this all took place, I can clearly remember the feeling of my face burning itself on the pavement of the highway and thinking, “That’s going to leave a mark.”
Stunned, I dragged myself and my bike off the highway. My thoughts began to clear as I sat back against the farmer’s mailbox pole. Tufts of dog hair were stuck to broken front spokes. Digging my cell phone out to call Laura, I had to blink away some double vision.
A car stopped and a lady jumped out. “Are you having a heart attack, “ she asked. I stood up to say no. For the first time I realized just how awful I must have looked. My white jersey by now had turned a dark shade of red. Wiping my face, my hand came back coated in fresh blood.
My good Samaritan quickly dug baby wipes out of her trunk and began wiping the wounds. She found small bandages for some of the scrapes. Assuring her Laura would be with me soon, she drove off with my thanks.
As I sat back down, I realized once again that guardian angels had watched over me. I have survived enough severe accidents that easily could have been the end of me that choosing not to believe in guardian angels would be foolish. I really don’t choose to tempt fate, but it does seem to have a way of finding me.
Somehow my injuries were not severe. Somehow my bike was not severely damaged. Somehow there were no other cars right behind me that would have had no time to stop before hitting me. Somehow the dog survived. My thanks went out to my guardian angels as Laura arrived.
I’m left with some very interesting scars. Three weeks after the crash, an MRI revealed a broken wrist. The clean break was healing properly, so I passed on a cast. Why not, I had already been riding since the day after the accident.
This coming Sunday, Laura and I will be in Kansas City for the final stage of the Tour of Missouri. I want to be there to see Jens Voigt on his bike again and thank the guardian angels that looked out for him just as they did for me.