Editor’s note: As we ring out 2012, we look at 12 of our favorite stories of the year. Today, we present James Jung’s personal look at the death of Markus Bohler in Bethel, Connecticut, which originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Velo magazine and was voted by our editors as our top story of the year.
Sometimes, the sport you love can teach the hardest of lessons
When I was 14 years old, I realized you could die in a bike accident. Of course, I knew the sport had its dangers, but it wasn’t until I saw footage of Fabio Casartelli bleeding to death at the 1995 Tour de France that the grim reality sunk in. Stunned and saddened, I watched the ESPN broadcast in disbelief as the young Italian’s limp body was splayed across the Pyrenean roadside and red blood ran down the pavement in rivulets from his crushed skull.
Still, the haunting images weren’t enough to stop me from sneaking out of the house without my helmet, wearing only Euro pro necessities like my Banesto cap and a gold guardian angel pendant as protection. Irony, not to mention fashion sense (or any sense, for that matter), is lost on a cycling-obsessed teenager.
Sixteen years later, I was reminded that bike racing could have fatal consequences, only this time the accident didn’t happen an ocean away, in a race I’d never enter, but rather a few wheels behind me during a Cat. 3/4 criterium in Bethel, Connecticut, in March.
Now in my early 30s, I’d been bitten by the bike-racing bug following a long hiatus from the sport, and I came into the 2012 season with a solid winter base, hopes of earning my Cat. 2 upgrade, and, for the first time in my life, teammates — a hodgepodge of Cat. 3 and 4 and grey-haired masters who all spoke like carefree kids whenever the subject of cycling came up.
The Bethel Spring Series is one of the most popular early-season training series in the Northeast. Located 90 minutes north of Manhattan, it forms a nexus between the strong New York City and New England cycling scenes, and gives riders the opportunity to tune up for bigger objectives later in the year. Like so many amateur crits held around the country, the course itself is unremarkable: A flat, near-mile loop located in a nondescript corporate park in the middle of suburbia. But following a long winter away from competition, no one seems to ever care about the course’s lack of terrain.