As Bradley Wiggins recovers from being knocked off his bike as he cycled near his Lancashire home on Wednesday night, it’s worth remembering that professional cyclists are in collision with cars much more often than you might think. There’s a simple reason for that – the sheer amount of time they spend out on the road. In the past 20 years far more pro cyclists have died on training rides than have died while competing.
In an extraordinarily unlucky few hours for men at the top of British cycling, it has emerged that Shane Sutton, the head coach for the GB cycling team and a key figure in the Sky team’s rise to prominence, came off his bike on Thursday morning in what British Cycling is describing as “an incident” in Levenshulme near Manchester. Sutton was taken to hospital head injuries and is expected to remain there for a few days.
Races carry their own dangers, as frequent pile-ups attest. But you also enjoy the protection of closed roads. The moment you leave that protection behind, the best cyclists in the world - for all their bike-handling skills - are no safer it seems than you or me. In the past few years two leading British cyclists – Zak Carr and Jason MacIntyre – have died as a result of collisions with cars. Since 1994, according to Wikipedia, 18 professional riders worldwide have died in such circumstances. Plus they tend to ride a lot faster than us mere mortals, so if something goes wrong there is even less time to put it right.
That’s not to say I wasn’t shocked when I heard the news about Wiggins, Tour de France winner and national hero. Oh no! Poor Bradley!, I thought. But also – thank God it wasn’t worse.
Logic tells you that the more time you spend riding your bike the more you increase your chances of something nasty happening to you. As a commuter and recreational cyclist I spend on average eight hours a week on my bike on public roads. A pro rider might spend three times as long.
Mishap or worse is just a moment away, and no matter how safely you cycle, no matter how alert you are to the dangers, if a driver does something totally unexpected, or – as is most frequently and depressingly cited as the cause of such incidents, “just doesn’t see you” - there is nothing you can do about it.
Of course to be a victim of such circumstances you have to be incredibly unlucky. That’s why I maintain that cycling – even in London, where I do all my cycling – is usually a very safe activity provided you go about it sensibly.
It sounds like Bradley was very unlucky. I use the expression “in collision with” advisedly because we don’t know exactly what happened. But if you are riding along and a car pulls out of a side road just as you are passing then being a Tour de France winner won’t make a ha’porth of difference.
What a year Bradley has had. Tour winner. Olympic time-trial gold medallist. Reluctant spokesman for clean cycling in the wake of Lance Armstrong. And now, dumped on the tarmac doing what thousands of us wannabes know all about – an everyday ride on local roads, just getting in the miles. I think any last vestige of doubt about this year’s Sports Personality of the Year Award has just been removed.
Get well soon, Brad.