Winning for Losing

He could see the events as they unfolded, almost as if he were a spectator to them, rather than a participant in them. The outcome to the events was clear yet, as slowly as they seemed to progress, there was nothing he could do to either avoid direct involvement, nor change the course of the action.

The cascade began with the rider on the far left, all the way over against the road centerline. The bunch had slowed just moments before and thus everyone, except those at the very front or back, were racing virtually shoulder to shoulder, and wheel to wheel. The stage could not have been more ready for a life-size game of dominoes on wheels.

Down they went. The first racer fell against the guy on his right, who fell into the guy on his right, and so on. In some cases that was all it took, while in others, locked handlebars brought about the downfall. Such was his case; locked bars and the sheer weight of the falling rider next to him, created an undeniable force dragging him to the ground. In all, a good five or six racers went down in similar, dominoe-effect, fashion across the lane. For those behind the line of fallen riders, It was as if a barricade had suddenly, and recklessly, been thrown across the roadway; the effect created by the abrupt appearance of a wall in the path of every rider behind it was predictable.

Unable to stop in time, the riders caught behind the obstruction, plowed into it with little diminution of speed. There was surprisingly very little yelling or cursing. What there was, what quickly became all too clear, were the multiple bent wheels, abraded skin, torn jerseys and bibs. The resulting chaos could not have been more widespread if a charging rhino had rampaged through the peloton.

Bikes were strewn across the road and into the desert sands, bodies splayed about the tarmac. Water from ruptured bidons mixed with blood dripping from wounds, sweat from brows, and oil on the road. Always oil on the road.

It didn't take long for the survivors to scramble to their feet. Some jumped up eager to remount and chase the ten or twelve racers not involved in the crash. Others were more slow, pushing themselves off the asphalt, assessing their condition before chancing a glance west along the straight path, noting the progress of the suddenly shrunken bunch and the ever-growing gap to them.

He was in that latter group of victims. It was the first time he had crashed in a race. The experience was a little shocking, and all new. His left shoulder burned, as did his left knee, and his right hand. Blood dripped from the finger on the end of that hand, but he picked up his bike to carry on. Though he had done many crits, this was his first real road race - he had been feeling good, maybe even great, and was not about to quit over a little ground flesh.

As he rolled his bike forward the rear wheel dragged behind, skidding along and refusing to budge. Giving a questioning glance down at the wheel it was only then that he realized it was bent. Not knocked out of true. Bent. He was unsure how he could have missed it when picking up his bike to begin with. It didn't matter, either way the day was officially over.

Also caught up by the crash was the race support vehicle - a small Toyota pick-up truck with a smattering of spare wheels in the back. None belonged to him. The driver picked up a few of the broken riders or their broken bikes, apologizing to the rest. The rest would have to walk. There were three times more who needed a lift back to the finish line, to their car, to the race medic. Those three times more began to hobble back along the road from which they came while a few, the more fortunate, were able to slowly ride homeward. He threw his disfigured bike up onto a shoulder and, along with a group of others in the same condition, clacked away from the setting sun in that strange noisy walk of the roadie damned, their shadows pointing the way.

He shifted the bike from one shoulder to the other several times before the Toyota made its way back around the course. This time he was among the lucky ones - misery may love company, and camaraderie is a good thing, most of the time - but he accepted the lift, throwing first his bike, then himself into the open bed of the pickup.

The wheel was replaced, the wounds mostly healed by the time the next issue of the Racing News came out. As usual he read through it cover to back - the announcements for upcoming races first, then the writers' columns, and finally the pages of results. There at the top of one of those results pages was the road race. Whose name should be listed in the First Place spot? None other than his own. Crashed out, yet still managed to pull off a win. And he didn't even stick around to collect his winners' prize.