The first third of this year’s Tour closed out with an uneventful team time trial on Sunday, followed by the first rest day and then the beginning of what has already proven to be some real fireworks in the mountains as Chris Froome asserted his dominance. (Here’s a video recap of Stage 10, when he destroyed his rivals to take command.)
The devilish first third of this Tour was a crash-filled affair that knocked an unprecedented two yellow jersey wearers out of the race.
Watching the Tour this year has provided a stark reminder of just how easy it is to crash. Even the best bike handlers in the world can go down like a 5-year-old just off training wheels at the slightest provocation. And sometimes they author their own demise. Just ask Tony Martin.
I had read about his crash before viewing it (I record the Tour and watch in the evenings during the workweek, typically), and I was so intrigued that I fast-forwarded to the last kilometer of Stage 6 and watched it over and over again to discover exactly what had happened.
Useful Lessons in Martin’s Crash
In short, Martin’s crash was a veritable “this is what NOT to do” display that holds a couple of very useful lessons (which are always worth repeating) for all of us who ride in close quarters with fellow roadies, whether it’s a simple paceline, a group ride with a full peloton, a race or even just an outing with a few friends. [I can offer some insight into crashing that I simply cannot offer about Froome’s ability to rocket up mountains!]
If the pros can make these mistakes on the biggest stage in cycling, the rest of us are certainly capable of the same missteps.
The German was in yellow and nearing the end of Stage 6, jockeying for position in the midst of the peloton to aid in his team’s lead-out effort. The peloton was rolling through the 1-km mark when Martin overlapped and touched the left side of the wheel of the rider in front of him.
Immediately, you could see Martin lean far to the right, his torso angling away from the bike. It was no wonder, then, when his bike came clear of the wheel he was rubbing, that he slingshot to the right, smashing into the rider next to him. That rider, in turn, dominoed into the next rider, and then came careening back into Martin as other riders started to become enmeshed in the crash.
Martin was the first to go down. It was so sudden that he didn’t even get his arm out in front of him, smashing directly into the pavement on his shoulder, shattering his collarbone in the process.
What He Did Wrong
1. He didn’t protect his wheel. Martin’s first mistake was not protecting his own front wheel. In close quarters, it’s your responsibility alone to keep your front wheel free of the wheel in front of you. Period. Stay far enough off that wheel so that you can react to what the rider in front of you is doing without overlapping his or her wheel in the event of a slowdown.
2. He overreacted and overcorrected. Just as we know that protecting your front wheel is paramount, we also know that touching wheels is almost inevitable if you ride enough in close quarters. It’s going to happen from time to time, no matter how vigilant you are.
When it does, though, the way to safely extricate yourself from this touchy situation is to slightly turn into the wheel you’re rubbing as you simultaneously ease back off that wheel. Turning slightly into the wheel helps you maintain your balance while preparing you for the “course correction” you’ll need to make when you’re free again.
Once you’re free of the wheel you were rubbing, if you’ve only slightly turned into it, you’ll then need to ease back into your line – again, not overcorrecting.
Leaning too severely into the wheel you’re touching (as Martin did) effectively “loads the slingshot,” and when you’re free, you fire wildly in that direction.
The opposite is true, as well. If you immediately and abruptly turn away from the wheel you’re touching, you tend to launch in that direction.
The key is not to overreact, and overcorrect. Easy does it.
Practice It Safely
This is a skill that is not instinctual in most of us. It comes with practice and requires that you, in effect, overcome your natural instinct to turn away from trouble. Find a grassy spot to try it with a friend, so that if you fall, you should have a more protected landing.
Ride fast enough so that when you’re turning into your buddy’s wheel you both are able to maintain your composure and not instantly get rattled. A few times should show you how effective this can be in saving you from real trouble if/when it happens to you on a ride.
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of “less than podium” talent, he sees himself as RBR’s Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR’s great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That’s what we’re all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John’s full bio.