Chad Haga Giro Journal: Safety first
Chaos ensues in the Giro as the peloton comes upon a fan on a beach cruiser in the finale. Haga escapes unscathed
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Around the midpoint of the stage today, I thought, “Unless Luka Mezgec wins or something really crazy happens, I don’t think I’ll have anything worth writing about.” I could certainly write up a droll report of how the race played out (it was a straightforward sprint stage with the break rolling away at kilometer zero) and the weather (it was warm enough for many to complain, but a paltry ‘less than comfortable’ on my forever-redefined heat scale … thanks, Tour of California).
Yes, it was indeed looking like I was going to be short on material worth putting on VeloNews. But it’s the Giro, and clearly, I have written a journal.
All was going to plan as we reached the finishing laps of stage 2 in Genova, but the peloton was slightly on edge. There had been a few minor crashes throughout the stage, attributable to normal racing, but everyone was a bit twitchy because there had been a big crash just before reaching the finishing laps. It was the first road stage, and field sprints are always dicey enough, which is why you saw Tinkoff-Saxo take the front with over 20km to go today — the safest place to be is on the front, driving the pace.
We had nearly completed the first of two laps and were quickly approaching a key turn. After seeing the full circuit, everyone knew that there was exactly one place to “easily” get to the front in preparation for the final lap. The stretch from two to one kilometer to go was flat, straight, and wide, so the full field was jostling for position going into that turn.
The peloton was spread from curb to curb. I was slowly working my way up to my teammates on the far left side of the bunch. As we rounded a gradual right-hand bend going nearly 60kph, the road straightened, and I had just enough time to register that there was some guy riding a beach cruiser in the road before all hell broke loose.
Yes, you read that correctly. Some joker thought it would be funny to ride next to us, in the finale, at finale race speeds. Of course, he escaped unscathed, unnoticed by the cameras, and unpunished. Next to him, though, bodies hit the pavement and bikes took to the skies. I was full on the brakes and just inches from the curb, but somehow managed to emerge unscathed with just one other rider behind me. I used my remaining energy to close the 200m gap that had opened and was therefore unable to help Luka in the finish. That crash eliminated the possibility of stage results for many and GC for a few.
We know that most of the spectators along the route are simply people going about their daily life when the race parade comes by ahead of us, drawing them to the road. They don’t understand tactics or the nuances of drafting. They only see fast-moving colors and want a closer look. But when a spectator steps out into the road, they are gambling with their own life and our lives, and we have to trust that they will jump out of the way when we see them at the last second. We simply have nowhere else to go and must hope for the best. I love dogs, but to see one along the roadside with a slack leash is terrifying. Spectators diving into the road to snag a bottle that bounced back onto the pavement happens all too often.
Racing is dangerous enough as it is; we certainly don’t need spectators’ help to fall off our bikes, we can do that ourselves. So consider this a heartfelt appeal to put our safety above your desire for a better vantage point.
When you see somebody doing or planning something stupid, please stand up for us and stop them. You will likely never receive recognition, but you can rest assured that we are thankful for your effort.
In exchange, we promise to put on the best possible show our legs can manage … Deal?