Concussions from Crashing

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I’ve had a few concussions through my lifetime from crashing.  This is the first time while out training.  The others were all at races.  Each and every time, they came fast and unexpected.  Of course they would be unexpected.  If they were expected, I wouldn’t have been where I was.

This is the first time I’ve fractured my skull.  And hopefully the last.  It is way worse than simply whacking your head and waking up a while later in a hospital room or somewhere else.   Hopefully all these head hits have been spaced out far enough that I won’t be any more forgetful, etc. than I already am.

Three times I’ve crashed during races and have gotten knocked out, then woke up later and kept riding.  I doubt that is a good thing, but I think it would have been hard to talk me out of it at the time.

The first time was at the Coor’s Classic.  We were racing from Denver to Vail Pass.  We were riding up the I-70, on the shoulder, up to the Loveland Pass exit.  It wasn’t far into the race. We’d just done the first real steep pitch on I-70 and were descending along the shoulder.  I was stoked to be in the front group, which was pretty big.  We’re going pretty quick, coming up to a place on the highway they had blasted a bunch of rock and we were riding next to a rock cliff.

Next thing I know, I’m seeing the road, but from 45 degrees.  I’m thinking to myself, I wonder why I’m leaning so far over.  That was it.  Out.

I woke up just a couple minutes later.  There were a lot of guys standing around me and our team mechanic was there looking distraught.  There was a doctor shining a light into my eyes asking me questions.  I think I was answering all of them alright.  I could hear the highway patrol saying that he was calling an ambulance and a guy from the race said that they already had one coming.

I looked over at my bike and my front wheel was collapsed.  I guess I’d hit a basketball sized rock and it broke the rim.  Anyway, I was just laying there by myself then and told my mechanic to put a new wheel on my bike.  He looked at me like I was crazy and wouldn’t do it.

All these people had no intention of letting me get up.  Finally my mechanic put the wheel on my bike, just as the last group on the road came by.  I realized if I didn’t get going, I was never going to be able to make the next 70 miles alone. I had been laying there for over ten minutes already.   So I jumped up, grabbed my bike and took off.

I caught the back of the group, which was maybe 15 riders, and was relieved.  They were crawling which was perfect for me.  Just then, a highway patrol car came up from behind and said something like “Ride number 78(?), please stop and retire from the race.”  Everyone in the group kind of turned around and looked back.  At me.

I rode up to a guy I knew in the group and asked him if I looked bad.  He said I had a ton of blood on my face, but couldn’t see a cut.   I just kept riding and the highway patrol kept asking me to quit.

Finally, after a bit, he just stopped.  The day was long and there were lots of great stories the rest of the day.  I finished, none the less for wear.  It turned out I had a pretty deep puncture wound on my scalp and you know how head wounds bleed.  It did.

Nearly the same thing happened on my first stage of the RCN.  It was the national tour in Colombia, South American.  I was riding for La Vie Claire.  They really just wanted Bernard Hinault, who had won the Tour the prior year, but he needed a team.

The first stage was a crazy circuit race in Medellín.  It is the 2nd largest city in Colombia.  There were so many spectators and it was so out of control, that it would have been really hard not to have crashed.

Hinault fell pretty early in the race and hit his head pretty good.  I stopped and waited for him and rode him back up to the field.   Quite a bit later on, I saw a few guys to my left fall, not too worried about it, but then next thing I know, the guy in front of me flips over his bars.  I hit him and that is all I remember.

Next thing I know, my mechanic is straying some sports drink in my eyes.  Ron Hayman, who was on La Vie Claire too, was standing there waiting.  My bike was okay, so I jump up and got on it.

I took off and start riding pretty hard.  So hard, I pretty much left Ron behind.  I was pretty focused on getting back to the field.  Then I realize I’d left Ron, so I sat up and waited for him. The course was sort of tricky there and you couldn’t see very far.  We did a descent and we came out on a super wide, long road.  I couldn’t see anyone on it and you could see a long ways.

I turned around and asked Ron where the race was.  He said I’d been laying there a few minutes and it was long gone.  I just shifted into an easy gear and we rode side by side to the finish.

At dinner than night, our team was a mess.  Bernard had a bunch of cotton gauze wrapped around his head.  Greg Demgen, was on a descent and someone threw a bucket of water on him, but they release the bucket and knocked him off his bike.  He was torn up.

The front page of the paper the next day had a photo of Greg sitting on the ground on his butt and it said something like this is how the gringos race bikes.  I don’t have that picture, maybe Greg does and he’ll send me a photo of it.

Of course, I wasn’t good either, but it was just the start.  I finished the rest of the stage race alright, normally riding the long days with Hinault, which was fun.  He won the final time trial in Bogota.   TIme trialing wasn’t my forte, but I’d thought I’d hauled ass, riding something like 55 minutes for 40 km, on a regular bike with 32 spoke wheels. Hinault rode 48 minutes something. Like incredible fast.  I wonder how fast he would have gone on a modern day time trial bike?

Anyway,  I’ve hit my head a few more time too, but I think I’m okay, not that I know.  It’s not like I’m a pro football player and ringing my bell constantly.  Just once every few years to keep me on the straight and narrow.

This is me, Thurlow Rogers and Bernard at one of the starts. Don't we look happy.

This is me, Thurlow Rogers and Bernard at one of the starts. Don’t we look happy.

Bernard usually pulled our group. I pulled sometimes, but I think he was training for the Tour of something, because he switched up the speed always.

Bernard usually pulled our group. I pulled sometimes, but I think he was training for the Tour of something, because he switched up the speed always.  He didn’t speak english back then.

This is Greg and I riding back to a hotel. We usually had a bike group of fans riding with us.

This is Greg and I riding back to a hotel. We usually had a bike group of fans riding with us.  We probably couldn’t have gotten to the hotel without them.



17 thoughts on “Concussions from Crashing

  1. Mike

    Riding on the straight and narrow ain’t so easy on our own. God Bless you my friend and your continued healing. Keep on emptying out those memories and experiences onto paper with pen; good stuff, YOUR story.

  2. The Cyclist

    Y’all look like proper pros should. With a bunch helmet wearing amateurs behind you. Enough said…

  3. numbnuts

    DH racers typically succumb to the end of their sport through concussions and/or spinal injuries. I have 3 buddies that were DH racers (top 10), all of them had mass concussions (can’t race anymore) and many have had their C5 and C7 broken…

    As for mtbing, the worst crash I ever encountered had to be Jeremiah bishop
    on day 2 of La ruta racing against the columbians, he was in first place coming down the volcano and hit a rock doing around 70km/h… can really get some speed down that decent. I nearly hit a cow and a dog one year… by the time I got down, Jeremiah was being taken away in the ambulance.

    I suspect crits are a big one for crashes…

  4. shano92107

    at a birthday dinner for a friend last nite conversation strayed into the popular perception that bike racers are bunch of sissies. I think this story pretty much refutes that argument.
    Glad to hear you’re not done yet, keep on truckin’ ST

  5. paul boudreaux

    Lots of crazy stuff in that post. Not the least of which being the fact Hinault could put 7 minutes into you in less than an hour. I assume he had some sort of mech advantage? Disc wheel or something? Hard to believe how fast the very best are.

  6. mike crum

    the cyclist… you’re saying it best to look like a pro without wearing a helmet and risk major injuries, than wearing a helmet?

  7. Ducky

    Really fantastic pictires. I love the group of fans riding you back to the hotel. They all look really comfortable on their bikes, in street clothes. And they look stoked to be riding with the stars of the peloton.

  8. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Back then? Probably no disc wheel at all for a road time trial.

    For some perspective, the U.S. 40K AKA “25 mile” record holder at that time was John Frey, and that mark was around 53:00 or so (and that was “at altitude” at the often-used, record-making course in Moriarty N.M.). To break 1:00 you already had to be “damn fit”.

    I went back and looked at the record books, and, amazingly, John Frey still holds the U.S. 40K TT record with a 47:35 he dd way back in ’90 Same course. Awesome talent he was.

    Hinault was the real deal (too).

  9. Dave

    The history, stories and photos are the main reason I read this blog.

    Steve – you think Bernard was racing clean?


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