Unvarnished Tales: A Touch of Wheels
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My Amgen Tour of California ended midway through Stage 2, and it was entirely my fault.
Lindsay Bayer / Hero Image: Jeff Kennel
The day before, I’d ridden myself into the ground through Stage 1 chasing the Most Courageous Rider jersey. My body felt terrible from the start, but I ignored the overwhelming desire to sit down on the side of the road in favor of launching attacks, following moves, and bridging to everything that got away. By the end, my legs were trashed. But the work was worthwhile, as my teammate won the jersey by nailing a timely solo counterattack. All that mattered is that Hagens Berman | Supermint landed on the podium; the detail of who put on the shirt was irrelevant. It was a win.
The price was that I felt like crap from the gun on the next day’s stage. I punched my ticket on the struggle bus and rode it all day long. The first sustained climb nearly cracked me but I limped over the top and was able to descend back to the field. The next 60 kilometers hurt to varying degrees, but I settled into the discomfort and prepared for a long trudge over the day’s final 13-kilometer climb.
Just after the sprint point, my teammate came on the radio to say she needed to drop her jacket in the team car. I replied that I’d take it for her and started to filter through the field. When I still hadn’t seen her as I neared the back, I turned around to look behind and veered slightly to the side. The last thing I remember is touching wheels with a rider to my left and then exploding pain.
I know how to look behind me safely. But I was tired and sloppy and it was completely my mistake. The good news is that I only took myself down in the crash. The bad news is that I took myself down in the crash.
The race doctor appeared above where I was crumpled on the ground, immediately asking if I knew where I was.
“Hell. I’m in hell.” I wasn’t actually sure if we were in Nevada or California at that point, so that was the truest answer I knew.
He asked if I knew my race number, and I could hear my team’s assistant director scoff, “Come on, what rider knows that??” But I did, because my number was 133 and I remembered thinking maybe it would be lucky. Clearly that was a miscalculation.
Somebody asked if I wanted to keep going in the race, and of course the answer was yes. In those first moments after any crash, all you can think about is assessing the immediate damage while measuring the amount of time the field is riding away. You have to get up and go or the race leaves you behind. We all watched the video of Toms Skujins staggering around post-crash last Monday, trying to get his shit together to rejoin the race. There’s not time for pausing to think, “Is this a terrible idea?” We’re not programmed that way.
But I could tell immediately that I’d cracked my head hard and continuing wasn’t an option. It didn’t even require consideration. My head hurt so badly that I half expected brain to start leaking out of my ear.
It was a few minutes later that I noticed my collarbone felt like being stabbed by hot splinters of metal. There was a moment of feeling mildly victorious, knowing I’d checked off the racer rite of passage of fracturing a collarbone. Then the reality of laying on the pavement on a Nevada road with a broken everything set in and that’s where I’ve been since.
Dozens of kind messages poured in, my sweet boyfriend showed up and stayed glued to my side. I went into surgery at 8am the following morning and came out repaired and freshly aware of new pain that had previously been unnoticed. That’s the beauty of a big crash – as soon as you sort out one issue, your body alerts you to three more. I hit the button on the pain medicine pump like it was a Jeopardy buzzer and I had all the answers.
By Saturday night, I was discharged and headed back to Lake Tahoe to get my things from the race hotel and begin the trip home. That night was a sea of pain and tears and fog that I’d gladly wipe from my brain forever. Sunday morning I flew to Scottsdale and retreated to my apartment to slowly piece my body and brain back together. The race finished without me. My victories became smaller milestones, like the first post-surgery shower or figuring out that I can wipe with my left hand. Sort of.
Crashing out mid-season is a lonely experience. You have all of these plans and goals, your fitness is progressing, and then suddenly everything comes to a screeching halt. You struggle with basic tasks made difficult by new physical limitations, the pain keeps coming, and there’s no escape into the routine of daily training. You can’t stop watching the peloton exist through news and social media, but you’re envious and isolated. Sometimes it’s easy to stay positive: “It could have been worse! I’ll be back soon!” Other times I want to punch the wall in frustration, but my left arm is weak and it would be pointlessly unsatisfying. Adding in a concussion means my brain fails to cooperate, my emotions are jumbled and inappropriate, and I require more naps than an insomniac toddler.
But this is what happened. I made a mistake and paid for it. It’s probably better this way; I have nobody to blame but myself and nobody else got hurt. I wonder if Toms feels the same way about the end of his Tour of California, or if Annemiek van Vleuten looks back on crashing out of nearly winning the Olympics and fumes at herself. Is it easier to accept a self-inflicted wound? I will certainly be more careful in the future; more aware of when I’m fatigued and respectful of how it might negatively impact my riding. The best anybody can do is learn from their mistakes.
A week ago, I was planning to spend today spinning out the legs after a few days of post-race recovery before turning my focus to the Winston-Salem UCI road race. Now the goal for today is to do my first short spin on the trainer. It’s easy to be a professional cyclist when the body is performing and the races keep coming and kids ask you to sign their shirts. This is the hard part.
But in losing your place in the pack, you are also reminded how badly you want to be there. I’ve never been more determined or motivated. And besides, the trainer is my natural habitat. Some time at home will be good. And then I’ll be back.
To learn more about Lindsay and her team, Hagens Berman | Supermint, check out supermintusa.cc and thedirtfield.com