Last month, a video of a crash at a Gran Fondo in China that happened when two groups of riders sprinted for the line head-on received global media attention. One of the riders involved was New Zealander, Daniel Carruthers. Here's his insider view on what actually happened.
I had spent most of the day hiding in the bunch as I knew that with fresh legs I would have a good chance of doing well in the final sprint.
The bunch had been pretty twitchy and nervous all day and there had been a number of crashes claiming riders along the way, mostly due to careless riding and disregard for bunch etiquette.
One particular crash, one that I narrowly avoided, involved a Mongolian rider and one of the Yunnan wonder-kids about 4km from the end.
It was perhaps the most unsportsmanlike crashes I have ever witnessed.
One of the riders grabbed the other rider by the scruff off his neck and yanked him hard; both riders went down heavily and bikes went flying.
I barely missed the flying bike and one of other foreign riders had to duck to avoid the flying bike, it actually skimmed his hand leaving a red nick behind.
The 4km to go crash shook the peloton a bit as the pace lulled for a few moments, but then riders at the front re-grouped and the pace was back on.
I was still about 20 riders back and I saw the 3km to go sign, it was time for me to start my move towards the front and be in a good position for the final sprint.
I managed to move up to slot behind the three German riders that had started their lead-out from about 2km to go. For me that was a great position to be in.
About 600m before the final corner, English rider John Cattrall launched a massive attack and instantly got a sizeable gap on us. I did not panic and remained on the wheels of the German riders.
The lead German rider blew up and it was up to the second German to close the gap to Cattrall. Catrall still had about 50m lead when he flew through the final corner and I was with the last German rider plus a Chinese rider.
Because of the speed we were doing and the lack of marshals and police officials at the corner, we followed the road wide as it should be naturally and we all saw the red banner about 800m down the road on the right side.
Cattrall had realised that we were all sprinting down the wrong side of the road and had sat up.
Imagine it, we were going full-bore at 60km/h plus and not knowing where to go.
With less than 200m to go, we saw tape in front of us and the German who was leading the way just crashed straight through the tape and sprinted to the red banner.
I followed him alongside others and also sprinted to the red banner.
In my mind, the race was over. No more sprinting. I coasted off the course, oblivious to what was now happening.
Some of the riders that contested the sprint at the front plus the riders contesting minor placings realised the big mistake and decided to ride through the U-turn and re-start the sprint in the wrong direction to the correct banner.
This split-second questionable decision by some of the riders, with others following instinctively, led to the horrific head-on crash.
They even had to sprint around and past numerous press photographers that were standing in position about 50m from finish line, anticipating a normal sprint finish.
I truly don’t know what was going on in their minds when the decision was made to do the U-turn and sprint again when it was crystal clear that the riders went down the wrong finishing chute?
Perhaps it was desperation for a result and thus prize money that is on offer?
What happened was truly the worst possible way to crash. There was a small group of five riders contesting the sprint amongst themselves going in the correct direction (they had been gapped off the front group due to the crash with 4km to go).
The rider in red buried himself and did not look up during his final 150m sprint. When he did look up, it was too late; he had smashed into the first rider also sprinting to the finish-line.
It was miraculous that all riders came out of the crash with minor injuries; the damage was restricted to one broken collar-bone and one broken finger plus plenty of bruises.
If there was no prize money on offer, would the riders still be so desperate to sprint in the wrong direction to win a bike race?
Back to the final corner blunder. In hindsight, which is always 20-20, if riders themselves took on responsibility by scouting out the last 1km of the course, it may have prevented the events that happened as all would know to take the left side of the road after the corner.
But then again, the organisers need to make it water-tight so that it is impossible for riders to take the wrong turn.
This whole incident shines light on how important it is for protecting rider safety by ensuring water-tight courses.
This was an unfortunate incident that transpired but lets not get caught up on the idea that it could only happen in China; it could happen anywhere.
About the Author
Kiwi cyclist Daniel Carruthers (40) is a familiar face on the Asia cycling scene, particularly China. He is a two-time Deaflympian, representing New Zealand in Taipei (2009) and Bulgaria (2013), and is very passionate about cycling events and cycling destinations around Asia. He can be found on Strava, Instagram and Facebook.