I don’t think I could handle this

If you’re an addicted Tour de France watcher, as I am, you’ve probably seen Jens Voigt eat the pavement on the downhill run from Petit St. Bernard during Stage 16 in the 2009 Tour de France.

If not, here it is.

He broke a cheekbone and had a concussion, but his injuries are not life-threatening. How would you handle a crash like that? Would it mean the end of biking for you?

I know he gets paid to do this, and he is among the elite of the elite in cycling. But a crash like this would send me to the swimming pool, or the badminton net, and I’d put my bike up for sale.

I was playing around this morning in the “downhill tuck” position, where I scrunched down over the top tube with my hands in the drops. It really works. Even on a gentle downhill, I pulled away from my wife, and she was concerned about my ability  to hold my balance. But that was at a blistering speed of about 17 mph. At 40+ mph, no thanks.

It’s like watching baseball. I’ve played a lot of ball in my life, but when you face a 95 mph fastball, and the best you can throw is 55 mph, you know you’re in a different league. I’ll continue to watch and marvel at these guys, but I’ll never entertain fantasies that I can ever approach what they do.

Addendum  July 31, 2009: Here’s a YouTube clip of Jens speaking from his hospital bed. Recorded July 26.

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14 thoughts on “I don’t think I could handle this

  1. Chicks dig scars, so I’m told. Having your face melted off by pavement burns at over 45 mph is pretty bad*ss, too. Just think–he will have instant recognition. Instead of the “brown haired, kinda tall, kinda thin, kinda handsome” guy (‘Who? That doesn’t narrow it down much.’), he’ll be “the guy with the face.” (‘Oh yeah, Jens. I know him.’).

    And yet, somehow I don’t envy him today.

  2. After a crash like that not sure how much of your bike you’d be able to salvage to put up for sale. With 1 bike related crash concussion under my belt it hasn’t deterred me. Now a crash like Jens might not deter me, but my wife might have something to say about getting back on the bike. I might have to take up a less dangerous sport like hockey. I know I wouldn’t be able to replace my bike, I’d be back on the old Fuji.

  3. I really don’t know if a crash Like Jens’ would deter me from cycling, but I’ve had a pretty good crash at 21 mph that didn’t deter me. As far as speed goes, when you’re cruising at 50 mph (or 70 like Weiland!) down a steep hill, it doesn’t feel *that* fast until you think about it. Go ride down Tumbleweed Hill with a group (for safety), and you’ll see that it’s not that scary when you’re doing it, but it’s very scary after you’re finished.

  4. I doubt a crash like that would stop me from riding, but it would make me contemplate my riding style and try to figure out if I did something wrong, and how to avoid it in the future.

  5. I have watched that fall several times and still don’t understand what caused his wheel to go out from under him. They say the white stripes are slick but other cyclists rode over the same stripes. I have been riding bicycles in one form or another for 50+ years, crashed several times and had a few near misses but I knew what or why they happened. Still I put those falls in the part of my brain that allows me to turn my back on a multi-ton vehicle, assume the driver is competent and has no bad intentions toward me and I keep on pedaling.

  6. Since that crash is in a semi-abnormal (at least it would be for me) situation it wouldn’t bother me too much. I took a spill a few years back when the quick-release skewer on my front wheel decided to release – I was riding at speed on a flat road (VERY common riding for me) ended up with a concussion (from which I developed a seizure disorder that I have to be medicated for), broken elbow, and lots of road rash. After that I was back on the bike as soon as the head and elbow would allow. I’m hyper-careful about adjusting things on all of my bikes to avoid another spontaneous equipment action, but other than that I just love the ride.

  7. I’ve gone bombing down Jester, Lakewood & “Toys R Us” hills on a mountain bike before and I know I do not want to hit the pavement at those kinds of speeds. My worst crash was off road while going down an off camber hill. I had just pointed downward to warn the guys following me of a particularly loose section when my front wheel washed out. I hit the deck hard. My hip (actually it was my butt, however hip sounds more genteel) turned blue and then black.

    I constantly worry that one of those TDF guys is going to get ran over by a team car some day…

  8. Having crashed just recently, I know I can’t wait to get back onto the bike this weekend. I have to admit though, that it was very difficult for me to watch Jens’ fall, because the images of my own crash kept creeping in, and the knowledge that Jens was traveling twice as fast when he went down, just really hurt. If it wouldn’t be for my better half, I already would be back on the bike – no badminton for me :-)

  9. I don’t know how I would handle it. I’ve fallen before and scraped things up and it hasn’t stopped me, but I haven’t taken significant damage so far (knock on wood). I suppose it would depend on how bad the damage was, and whether I’d feel more vulnerable to future damage if things weren’t able to heal completely. If I recovered physically, I’d guess I’d go back to riding. But easy to say until it actually happens…
    .
    Here’s a video with a slo-mo isolation:

    Reports are he hit a bump which caused a loss of control. In the isolation, you can see his left hand move and come off just before the tire skids on the white line. There isn’t a view of the right hand, so hard to say for sure exactly what happened. A guess: The left hand came off from the bump (possibly he was re-positioning the hand at just the wrong time as well), the right hand stayed on more and pushed the handlebar left causing some countersteer to the right and then the front wheel got on the paint line, which made it easier for the wheel to turn even more and slide out. Maybe losing the hand/hands was already enough and the line didn’t even matter at that point and is just a red herring, but it didn’t help.
    .
    I assume the other riders didn’t lose grip on their handlebars from the bump, which is why they were fine on the white lines. The road/paint was dry and they weren’t leaning all that much anyway since the corner wasn’t so sharp. So not putting a bunch of sideway force on the tires so I don’t think the paint lines mattered unless something else went wrong. Not like taking a tight corner in the city on a wet crosswalk (bad).

  10. Watch the rider in front of him. Just before Jens started to change hand position and then crash, the rider in front made a sudden move. Jens was probably reacting to him and lost control when he hit the white line.

  11. crashing is a part of cycling. if you ride, eventually you will crash (or some idiot will hit you). having experienced both, the joy of cycling overcomes my fear.

    just found your blog and love it!

  12. I don’t think a crash like this would deter me. I’ve been in a few, and though there were no broken bones, there was some major bruising, scarring road rash, pulled muscles and stretched tendons. Oh, and serious bursitis in my right shoulder that’ll never heal.

    I thought briefly about this during the Triple Bypass a couple weeks ago. In one stretch, with the wind at our backs, we were pulling ~50mph while wearing wind breakers that were acting like kites. The pavement was dry, there was plenty of sight distance, and our equipment was in tip top shape, but things happen. I didn’t think too much about it, though, b/c I was having way too much fun.

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