Athens Twilight Criterium

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I vowed not to return to this race after crashing twice the last time I rode it. I’m not exactly sure how many times I’ve done the race, but, for sure, have a over 50 % crash ratio. That isn’t acceptable. I’ve been laying in this very spot more times than I would like to remember. One year, when I rode for Levi’s/Isuzu, I rode directly into a pile of guys and next thing I was doing was trying to stop a spray of blood coming out of a severed calf muscle. Anyway, bad things happen in bike races, we don’t need to exacerbate to them by adding stupidity.

38 thoughts on “Athens Twilight Criterium

  1. Bill V

    If pro cycling wants itself to be taken seriously as a legitimate sport, this kind of bush league organization and refereeing needs to be punished by USAC in some public and meaningful way. Athens seems more like a stupid spectacle or a sick joke than an actual pro race.

  2. webhed38

    The only way this could get any worse is if they park the pace car at the apex of the corne………

  3. Jeff

    Let’s hide the pace car around a blind corner if there’s a crash, that way, there will be more crashes and the “I don’t understand bike racing fans” will have something to cheer about. It almost looks like they did it intentionally.

  4. AdamM

    Second Bill, I watched the live steam and the officiating and race organization was so poor that it’s hard to fathom why anyone would toe the line in that race? It was beyond surreal to hear the announcer keep blathering on complementing the race seemingly oblivious the cluster actually taking place on the course.

  5. Stu

    I think everyone is being a little harsh on the officials. The one thing needed in this situation is a direct radio to the announcers to neutralize the race immediately due to the rider down. The rider was laying there unconscious. Without a way to shut the race down, the official did the right thing by protecting the down rider from getting run over by racers. Sure, it caused more crashes, but the alternative could have been way worse for the unprotected guy on the ground. It was just a bad spot for an unconscious rider. More marshals and radios needed, not necessarily any one officials fault.

  6. Stu

    I hear race promotion is in need of more money and more volunteers. Care to offer either of those? Unless you are a race promoter or a volunteer I don’t think you can just say “USAC needs to do X”. Money and people. If you can’t offer one of those just keep your mouth shut.

  7. Jeff

    If the organizers don’t have enough help then they shouldn’t be allowed to start the race. Period.
    That video showed what a god damn joke the organization was. It’s no wonder guys don’t want to race crits.

  8. Rich W

    And how about the clusterF*ck of a restart. The officials let the “break” of 4 go first then never restarted the field. Those guys “raced” a lap till they got around and saw the field still sitting there. What the hell?

  9. Dog

    I remember riding Manhattan Beach GP one year and the two guys in front of me locked their bars and went down just past the hill on the east side of the course. One of them was badly hurt. The next lap, we came flying over the hill at over 25 MPH only to find an ambulance blindly parked in the middle of the course, and many of the riders plowed right into the back of the damn thing.

    Ever since I began racing in the early 1980’s, there has been a need for a fully understood (meaning peloton AND officials / announcers / promoters) way to neutralize a race and protect racers and spectators from further injury. I think that every criterium course with “blindness issues” (corners, hills, dog-legs, etc) needs to have full radio coverage (meaning every linear foot of the course perimeter can be seen by someone with a radio.

  10. Bill V

    This isn’t the first time they’ve put on this race and it’s not the first serious crash that’s happened at this event. Refining safety protocol and emergency response is something that you’d think they’d have down by now? How long has this race been running for? But it’s cool they have a Charger as a pace car.
    On the positive side, hopefully this video helps instigate a new focus on safety protocols at this event and at the NRC level so this kind of situation doesn’t spiral out of control again.

  11. Francisco Mancebo

    Lets get one thing out the way first, the promoter of the race – Gene Dixon (and whatever promotion company he hides behind) – is a Grade A tool and has always been a Grade A since the beginning of time. Athens is full of the stories of his shenanigans over the years. Everything he touches is tainted and smells like the mechanic left a hot dog in your seat tube on a hot day. The races he promotes are always dangerous and filled with ill planned consequences. At least the downtown course has pavement without railroad tracks in the apex of the turn. You should try getting your check from Dixon, he uses all the tricks to avoid cashing out in a timely fashion. Steve, you are so right to avoid Twilight

    All that aside, and I am never one to defend a douchebag such as Gene Dixon, some of this mayhem falls back on the riders. Unless they registered for their very first USAC licence 10 minutes for the start, they should collectively have a little more common sense and awareness.

    1) Massive crash happens at the front of the field. Smell and sound is pretty hard to miss
    2) Minute and some change later when you roll thru the scene of the crime again you just might want to be on your toes
    3) Third time thru – wonder if the last 2 wrecks were cleaned up? was that a motorcycle protecting an unconscious rider? Wonder if we should back off just in case so as to not get anyone else hurt?
    4) To the cats that were 30 seconds or more off the back and almost repeatedly plowed into the emergency responders – WTF?

    Lot of blame to go around in this situation, but I applaud the motorcycle official for acting in the way that he did to protect the rider on the ground. Cool head in a pretty scary situation

    Moral of the story: stay away from Twilight

  12. Brian

    Wow, there was so much stupidity in that video they could have bottled and sold the surplus on Ebay.

    First off, the moto rider should have moved into a safer place if he was in fact trying to protect the rider. He stayed in the worst possible spot. If he was merely being stupid he should be barred from riding the moto again. Kind of like the car driver who punted Johnny Hoogerland into the barbed wire fence a few years back at the TdF.

    Then, there’s the downed riders and the volunteers/officials/hangers-on who were walking backwards toward a blind corner while the rest of the racers are barreling toward them at full speed.

    As for the riders themselves, sometimes you just have to slow down in the interest of safety. But, the field can be seen drilling it within inches of the crashed moto and the unconscious rider. That is decidedly unsafe. In the riders’ defense, there absolutely should have been a flagman or some sort of warning protocol in place. Maybe they would have then made the right decision. Maybe.

    Then there’s the guy who stops and parks the official car on the outside of the of the turn at the apex. Very dangerous. He should also be banned for good.

    Can’t forget the fans in this one… the guy who keeps looking back towards the camera seems to be loving every minute of it. It’s not a defense, but it’s a good bet he’s either drunk, stoned, or both. Maybe he just likes to chant while watching blood flow. He might think he’s at a frat party.

    Ultimately it all ends up in the lap of the promoter. This is obviously a dangerous situation within a dangerous race. Has been for years. The promoter needs to take some of the profits and invest in the riders’ safety. Just do it. PLEASE don’t tell us you’re not making any money, Mr. Promoter.

    You know, maybe downtown crits contested on tight and narrow streets just aren’t the way to go. Do we as a sport need the bloodsport aspect of it all?

  13. Jacob

    I understand the criticism and agree with the need for improvement, but as someone who was there, I can’t fault the officials overly much for the 2nd crash. As the announcer Chad Andrews explains at the link below, there was only about 25 seconds between the crash and the front of the field approaching turn 1 again. Athens is rock-concert loud and people were yelling like crazy (including fans), but there was no way to really communicate that riders were down in the apex that quickly. Obviously this needs to be fixed, but again, I don’t think you can cast too much blame either.

  14. channel_zero

    Hey Jeff,

    This idea there is some perfectly safe way to run a race on a tiny four-corner course is a failed one.

    How about jacking up your entry fees to somehow run safer events?

  15. Jason

    I saw ZERO crashes in the elite race at the Steel City Showdown this weekend and it was a top notch run event that provided some awesome race viewing.

  16. H Luce

    Granted, the rider down needed protection – but the way the motorcycle was parked, with its tail out in the probable flow of the riders around that turn, was guaranteed to cause a massive crash. If the tail had been parked touching the fence, and the rest of the bike had been situated at an angle as close to the fence as possible while still protecting the downed rider, the massive crash might have been averted. It might be useful as well to have a set of emergency flashers on the bike to alert riders of the obstacle in the course. Putting someone with a flag or “SLOW” sign with flashers *before* the turn might also help. The crowd should have been pushed away from the fence so the downed rider could be taken through the fence opening thus created and off the course as quickly as possible – riders still could have come around that corner at top speed and crashed into the EMTs and gurney causing further serious injuries. Everyone who has ever seen a criterium at a corner knows the flow of bikes around a corner and where the danger zones are, and it shouldn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out how to deal with a situation like this in a more safe manner than was done here.

  17. H Luce

    And if you look at the position of the motorcycle, it actually diverted and channeled part of the flow of the riders coming around the corner directly on to the downed rider…

  18. Jeff M

    To run with your flashing lights idea; it would be cool to have wireless “flashing red”, “flashing green” lights strategically placed along the course and controlled by the officials. When a crash is reported, the official hits the red button and all the red lights along the course flash. Then there’s no “I didn’t know” from the riders. And once it’s “all clear” the official hits the green button and all the green lights come on.
    Any thoughts?

  19. H Luce

    I’d be willing to bet that 90% of that crowd knows nothing about race tactics or the technical aspects of the sport, they’re just looking for spectacular bike crashes and riders flying through the air. Of course, there’s no attempt at educating people about what’s going on in the race, no video or commentary to show race tactics being performed, just an undifferentiated mass of riders coming down the street at full force. Eventually someone hooks a wheel or handlebars and people go down, and that’s the fun part – for the spectators. Riders throwing elbows and fistfighting for position add to the fun. If the race were run in a perfectly safe manner, you wouldn’t have much of a crowd, I’d bet – unless they were educated as to what the riders were actually doing.

  20. Pingback: Athens Twilight Criterium | Pushing Carbon

  21. Larry T.

    As an ex-moto racer it would seem on a crash-prone circuit like this one there should at least be some sort of flag men as used on motor racing circuits. Waving yellow flag means “Danger, slow down, no passing” while a red flag means race has been stopped. It’s just a bicycle race, when someone’s injured and in danger of further injury from the other competitors, the thing should be stopped until the guy’s been moved to safety. This ain’t rocket-science!

  22. Rich W

    Full video of Twilight here:

    2:03:38 Crash in turn 1

    2:04:09 Abraham not moving. Moto looking at him.

    2:04:31 (LAP 1) Break passes crash. One moto with unmoving Abraham, lead moto rolls thru crash with break.

    2:04:56 Peloton crashes into moto and Abraham in turn 1.

    2:05:47 (LAP 2) Break passes crash. Abraham still not moving, pace car stopped in corner with moto. Lead moto continues thru with break. 2 Hincapie guys bridging.

    2:06:00 Peloton passes crash.

    2:06:41 Lead moto telling break to slow down going into turn 1 but still racing.

    2:07:02 (LAP 3) Break and lead moto passes crash. Racing.

    2:08:11 Break passes pits. Pit officials making gestures. Moto just stays behind the break. Break continues to race.

    2:08:19 (LAP 4) Break passes crash. EMS with stretcher on course being avoided by riders. Moto with break rolls by. Still racing.

    2:09:42 (LAP 5) Hincape joins with break. Group of 4 passes crash and EMS. Still racing. Lead moto rolls by.

    2:10:02 Peloton passes crash. Still racing. Riders one foot from stretcher and Abraham.

    2:10:50 (LAP 6) Break is finally neutralized but rolling by lead moto at start finish.

    2:11:11 Chad calls the race neutralized. Peloton still rolling a foot from EMS.

    2:12:10 Abraham stretchered off the course

    2:13:06 Officials in the middle of the course then Chad calls for another neutral lap.

    2:14:48 All rider stop at finish line. Chad calls 4 from the break up.

    2:15:31 Official motions break of 4 to start. They roll off.

    2:15:35 Chad says “wait, hold on guys stop for a second” but break has started and rolls on past the pace car and they are back racing.

    2:15:54 Myerson in peloton yelling at officials

    2:16:00 Chad says they are gonna let the leaders roll around then put them back in front again.

    2:16:03 Myerson yelling.

    2:16:35 Break of 4 racing around turn 4, noone told them that they were not racing including lead moto.

    2:16:48 Break sits up in final stretch motioning “wtf?”

    2:17:06 Myerson yelling.

    2:17:42 Officials talking to Myerson

    2:18:44 Chad announces the break is now the original 2

    2:19:15 Break started

    2:19:27 Pelaton restarted

  23. Steve Tilford Post author

    John-Yep, it was Joe. Super bad wound. Lots of hours of surgery fixing that. I was completely covered in blood trying to stop the bleeding. It was crazy.

  24. usedtorace

    If I remember correctly (memory is a bit hazy these days) the old Moline crit was a bit like Athens the handful of times I did it. It was thrilling to me as a teenager and in my early 20s, but it seems like a frightening combat zone to me now. Bike racing should never be so dangerous. Hinault rightfully despised crits when he had to ride them in America.

  25. Jeff

    This breakdown script does a great job chronological listing of how confused just everybody was and would make a great case study for future actions that could be prepared for not just in the organizers reaction plans to a crash, but implementation of communications systems to ‘all involved’ in the event, from officials to racers, to fans. I really think a wireless light warning system placed strategically around the course would be easy to implement and fairly inexpensive with todays technologies and would have an almost immediate feedback after the very first time it was used to verify if it works to improve safety.

  26. Carl Sundquist

    I got caught up in the Saunders crash too.

    I didn’t see him again until 1989 when he raced the the points race at track nationals in Seattle.

  27. Francisco Mancebo

    Myerson yelling all the time? That is just the sound of his body rejecting its art

    You realize that he’s like Richard Sachs or Joe Papp. Say their name on the interwebs and they appear

  28. Jason Snow

    I’ve been lucky enough to never crash at this race. I think I’ve done the pro event 8 times. Emphasizing lucky.

  29. Dog

    2:15:54 Myerson in peloton yelling at officials

    2:16:03 Myerson yelling.

    2:17:06 Myerson yelling.

    2:17:42 Officials talking to Myerson

    I see all is as it should be. Balance has been brought back into the force.

  30. Dog

    Anyone remember the Wheat Thins series in 1985? All of the courses were 1/2 mile, lined with hay bales. Designed for us to crash often and provide quite a spectacle for blood-thirsty spectators.

  31. Dog

    Not enough accountability going on here. The course itself is inherently unsafe, not bike racing. Bike racing is only inherently unsafe when we’re subjected to inherently unsafe situations like these.

    Racing at night is inherently unsafe. The only reason it’s done this way at Athens is to raise the anxiety and thrill level for the crowds.

  32. tac

    Right on brother! Current state is a Circus. And I could of swore I heard circus music playing on that youtube clip!

  33. pierre de sommières

    150 years of cyclism, and people don’t even know the danger…

  34. kurti_sc

    I disagree with you Stu. USAC needs input like this. One of their goals is to promote cycling in the US and this type of race, this type of atmosphere, and this type of management / promotion does a disservice to those who want to make cycling a livelihood. Think about people training in earnest and having season goals and then…coming here? why? It’s a farse. take it off the calendar or clean it up!


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