Worst day in the world
Dramatic title huh? Well it was a dramatic day, Stage 5: one that left me and just about everyone else here feeling sick to the stomach, and, I have to admit, wondering for more than just a moment just why I am in this mad sport.
The stage began under blue skies with an moderate temperature that had everyone in a cheery mood after the preceding day of rain. But the calm was shattered in the neutral when a moto rider rammed straight into the back of veteran Jaan Kirsipuu of Champion Systems. I heard an almighty noise and turned to see a big black motorcycle sliding along the road with Jaan tumbling alongside it.
I stopped and headed back immediately to find Jaan standing but completely dazed, next to his mangled bicycle with the moto rider comforting two elderly women whom he’d also hit with his bike. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. I heard later that the moto rider had been taking his photographer passenger along the peloton to get a photo but swerved into Jaan to miss a parked car. Unbelievable! And it was lucky that we were only doing about 25kph.
That drama over, we set off again and got no more than one kilometer when we had a 90 degree turn. As the bunch cornered there was a family crossing the road that just missed getting mown down by the slimmest margin. Had there not been a policeman there to drag them over the road it could have been another bad incident.
The Chief Commissaire called us all to a stop a few hundred meters later as we waited for Kirsipuu, I think. The UCI Commissaire took this opportunity to address us and say that our safety was important to her, and then she proceeded to tell us about the hazards on the route: a bad corner after the descent, some standing water on another, and a bad road along the way. All of this prompted me to wonder why the heck she hadn’t bothered to tell us that at the start. Guess a rider getting slammed by an 800 pound motorbike from behind awoke her caring instincts…
Then, well, we raced. The ins and outs of the actual racing I can barely remember, because at about the 130km mark guess what happened – again – yep, that’s right, another motorbike rammed right into a rider. Suddenly there was a huge Harley down on the road; a confused photographer sat next to it holding onto his camera and looking like he had no idea where he was; the moto rider lay on his back convulsing; and a Lampre-ISD Conti rider was just about standing but checking his body for damage.
The Harley driver had been trying to pass the pack when he clipped the rider. The rider went into the barrier then onto the road. The driver flew over the bars and tumbled and the bike itself fell onto the photographer.
It was a scene you never want to see, and it was the second time on this crappiest of days that we had to see it.
First of all, a Harley? In a bike race? Are you kidding me? And inexperienced outriders? Like this sport isn’t dangerous enough… We need some extra spice by having weekend warriors on mechanized rhinos taking chunks out of us.
Thanks a lot, Tour de Korea organizers, real bright thinking there.
Someone shouted “Ok neutral to the finish!” which was the smartest thing I’d heard all week, but then the Chief Comm comes over and said, “Your safety… blah, blah, blah… and you will compete for the sprint point in 5km and the finish in 30km. OK?”
I was flabbergasted. At a Loss for words. Candelario said no to the sprint, spoke to the Comm and some riders and we didn’t compete it, but there was still the problem that you had 110 guys who suddenly thought they could win the stage. And it was a tough stage that was about to break up before Judge Dredd on that Harley took out our fellow rider (who finished the stage, by the way): one with a narrow finish that was ok for a group of 15 or 20 but with enough bumps and lumps on the road to make it very dangerous for a bunch sprint.
The Chief Comm knew this; she had to. We though, we’re just cyclists. Tell us to do something that normal people would call you mad to even ask and we’ll do it. And do it twice just to prove how damn hard we are.