BOUNTIFUL, Utah (VN) — Robin Carpenter hit the pavement in a crash during the nervous early kilometers of stage 5 at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. He suffered road rash and a cracked helmet. Amazingly, the 25-year-old chased back to the field and managed to sprint to fourth place at the end of the day.
“I cracked my helmet but I don’t think it was from the impact,” Carpenter said after the race. “I think it was from someone hitting the helmet while I was already on the ground.” A scraped shoulder, ripped jersey, and bloody elbow rounded out the lanky rider’s injuries. He’d need additional testing for possible head injuries, though.
As Carpenter sat stunned on the side of the road after the crash, the race medical car pulled up to assess the situation. Finding Carpenter with his helmet off, sitting on the ground, the team set its concussion protocol into action.
“The default is to ask [the rider] five questions,” race doctor Brad Rockwell said. “Someone who looks like [Carpenter], you have to ask the five questions.” These questions include things like where are you, what’s your name, what color are your shorts. “It’s real basic,” Carpenter adds. “They’re only if you were really, really messed up.”
Several years ago, the UCI adopted the Standardized Assessment of Concussion Tools (SCAT 3) guidelines to help diagnose riders with potential concussions. Treatment of concussed riders came under fire earlier this year at the Amgen Tour of California after Toms Skujins’s gut wrenching crash on stage 2. Skujins stumbled across the road after a high-speed descent and tried to remount his bike. No medical staff was near, so he continued to stumble and fall until he eventually got back on his bike and swerved his way down the road. Skujins was eventually pulled off the road by his Cannondale-Drapac team director and taken in for medical attention. This event emphasized the importance of concussion protocol for Utah’s medical staff and they implemented the procedure in each of the crashes throughout the day.
After passing the official concussion protocol, Carpenter did his own assessment as well. “I closed my eyes and stood on one leg and made sure I didn’t fall over. But that’s tough to do in cycling shoes,” he laughed. Both Carpenter and the medical staff cleared him of a possible concussion and he prepared to rejoin the race. The whole process took several minutes, setting up a challenging chase back to the peloton. But Carpenter’s chase would have to wait a little bit longer.
A simple oversight meant the Holowesko-Citadel team car that had stopped with Carpenter didn’t have a spare helmet for the rider. Since Carpenter’s helmet was severely cracked, he was not allowed to get back on the bike until he found a replacement. As precious minutes ticked by, his hopes of returning to the race dwindled.
“I was two seconds from climbing in the car and calling it,” he said. “But then someone in the broom wagon was yelling that someone had a helmet like 500 meters up the road.” A family who rode out to spectate offered up one of their helmets for Carpenter to use while the team sourced another. However, Carpenter wasn’t allowed to even ride his bike to retrieve the helmet up the road. So he walked the distance in his cycling shoes.
Back on his bike, Carpenter slipped behind his team car for the long journey back to the peloton. While drafting cars is technically against the rules, it’s widely known and accepted that riders caught out in a crash can receive help from team cars to rejoin the field. Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and the other riders involved in the stage’s earlier crashes did the same.
Chasing for over 30 minutes, Carpenter made contact with just a few kilometers to the finish. “I ripped the downhill and caught the end of the lead group on the sharp turn toward the finish,” he said. It took one more turn for Carpenter to reach the front, just in time for his teammate TJ Eisenhart’s lead-out effort. Carpenter jumped into the mix as a reduced field barreled toward the finish. Jumping out of the saddle with one final effort, the rider who clawed his way back from nearly quitting the race sprinted to fourth place on the stage.
It wasn’t the result Carpenter hoped for at the start. But after losing nearly 12 minutes from his crash, from the concussion protocol, and the helmet debacle, Carpenter seemed satisfied. “I’m pretty happy taking fourth after a day like that,” he said as he rolled off in search of the medical tent for another round of treatment. “Having a crash blows but it’s not the end of the world.”