Crashes Happen, And Sometimes You'll Be In Them
As a somewhat separate response to the "Cat 5 Racing" thread thats going around now, I just wanted to offer a different viewpoint on the issue of bike handling, sketchy maneuvering, and crashes.
First off, if you ride a bike, sooner or later you'll crash. If you race the chances of your crashing are greatly increased and the frequency of crashes will most likely rise. YES - Cat 5 racers are the least experienced of all racers, and as a GENERALIZATION don't know what they're doing or how to handle themselves ideally in tight race conditions.
But having only ridden and raced a bike for a bit under two and a half years, it hasn't been long since I was in the lower category 5 and 4 races, and while the riders may be scetchy in those ranks, they don't try and pull the absurd maneuvers that I see all the time in Pro-1-2, or UCI Junior races. Cat 5 races are more dangerous because of a lack of experience and race savvy, but higher level racing is more dangerous because riders are much tighter together, the stakes are generally higher, and the speeds are much higher.
This last Saturday, I was doing a Pro-1-2 circuit race on a very fast 1.6 mile loop. All of the riders in our race were waiting in the staging area facing the start finish line while the Womens Cat 4 race ended. And in the women's final sprint, one of the girls crashed as if for no reason at all, and was subsequently run over by another girl who faceplanted onto the asphalt. Without going into the gruesome details, I will say that they were both pretty hurt and they had to call an ambulence. And so all of the Pro-1-2 field witnessed this event. I was kind of scared to race after seing a horrible accident like that to be honest, but I got my nerves together, and did it anyway.
I would have thought that all of us would have been a bit extra cautious having seen the accident, but I would have been wrong. We flew around the course at blistering speeds - averaging 28 mph for an hour and a half and hitting 35 mph on the flat backside of the laps, people were agressive and everyone was bunping shoulders and flying through almost non-existant gaps in the field to get in good position to fly through the sharp corners, which had to be taken at less than 20 mph, near the front. Now, I would wager to say, that this race was just as likely to have had a crash as any Cat 5 race -- although the riders were more experienced, a lot of riders were very physical and lot's of contact between riders was being made, something which usually increases the risk.
And so in the closing kilometer, we all were flying as fast as we could to the final corner of the race. And who would have guessed, that some rider who was so eager to get just the right wheel or something, caused a crash with an insane lefthand swing at the front of the field. Right in front of me. Instincts took over all the operations of the bicycle, but although I couldn't see the crash, I could tell it was right in front of me and I thought I was doomed. You won't believe what actually happened, but I'll say anyway.
I ran over the crashed rider's head, as well as kicking his head with my left foot as I dove to the right to try and avoid things.
Miraculously I stayed upright after running his head over -- which was purely non-intentional mind you -- but I think it was pretty much luck that saved me. Yes, the rider who fell was pretty injured, but not from head injuries. He was wearing a helmet which probably saved him.
The point of all this is that although given a set of circumstances, more experienced racers will have much fewer crashes than say Cat 5s, the more experienced riders ARE NOT GIVEN THE SAME SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES.
Without trying to be frightening or morbid about this greatest of sports, it should be noted that at any level of racing there is always an inherent level of risk involved, and that if a racer can't deal with the risks involved in a Cat 5 race, I find it difficult that they could cope any better faced with the risks of a Pro race.