How We Went Down

Sometimes I just like overanalyzing the crap out of something. Don't mistake the following piece for a sign that I am all bent outta shape about the crash we had in the start at Northampton; I am just excited to share what I can figure out from watching multiple videos of it.

Video #1 is the "epic cycle-smart cyclocross crash" from Youtube. Video #2 is my own bar cam footage, currently unreleased. Neither one provides very clear coverage in the melee of the start, but that's why this is entertaining. Check it out:
The excitement starts on racer's right at the pinch in the fence. Note that riders lining up on racer's right have to go straight for just a bit before they can turn right, but riders lining up on racer's left can head straight down the starting straight. This puts pressure on racer's right as it gets pinched. Here we see a Sachs rider (Dugan, I think) and Derrick St John approaching the slight turn on the inside. Note how different their direction of travel is relative to Timmerman, leading.

Here we can see Dugan is pinned to the fence by St John, pushing his bars back into the course so he doesn't go down. It's unclear why St John is invading his space so much, but it's probably the general swarm of racers ahead of them who don't have to worry about that turn in the fence.
In response to this contact, St John shoots across the road, toward the center. Once again, look how different his direction of travel is compared to the majority of the field. It's unclear if this was his choice, or if he had to swerve to stay upright after contact with Dugan.
St John gets abruptly brought back in line with the field when he hits Lindine. Note how close together their wheels are. Lindine has half a length on him so he isn't really affected by the contact, but it sends St John back across the road in the other direction.
All hell has broken loose. St John is now an entire bike length behind Lindine, illustrating the speed difference. A leg (highlighted) can already be seen on the ground, and Ward, Bradley and Keough are all making contact as they try to avoid the crash.

So that's the front view. It took me about 10 viewings to find where the crash starts (Dugan and St John). Let's try the back view and see who actually went down first.
Bar cam, prior obvious carnage. Ricky V of Echappe is highlighted. You can see Dugan ahead and right of him, partially inside the highlight.
Just a half-second later Ricky has moved over a bit and looks uncomfortable. This is definitely in reaction to St John and Dugan making contact. Ward is already very close to Bradley, perhaps because he can see the badness coming.
The last moment of uprightness. The perspective is changed a bit because, don't forget, I'm jerking my bars like crazy and looking to move up, just like everyone else. Note that Ricky is now partially ahead of and very close to Ward. You can see another rider directly ahead of Ricky, CCB's Dylan McNicholas, who was held up as St John and Lindine made contact directly ahead of him.
It's over. Ricky is trying to stay upright and keeps drifting left, but he's going faster than McNicholas, who had to avoid a swerving St John. Ricky's front wheel can't go to his right because his speed made him overlap wheels with McNicholas. His body weight, though, is already going right, and since he can't steer that was he has to take a foot out. You can see Ward and Bradley are in full contact now because of the impending crash.
Ricky's foot is clearly on the ground now, Ward and Bradley are now picking up Keough as well. Note the bars of an Embrocation rider have abruptly jumped into view as I'm already braking.
Ricky is on the way down (look how low his shoulder number is) and Keough/Bradley/Ward are hopelessly close together. Now that Ricky's down, we can see St John ahead of him in pink, as a reference point to Video #1.

And of course, that all leads to this:
Honestly, I haven't been racing long enough to really judge if someone was at fault here. The simplest explanation is probably the right one: shit happens.


RMM said…
Considering that there were major crashes at the start of many of the races, my conclusion is that the design of the start area greatly contributed to the crashes.

There was a major crash at the beginning of both Elite Men's start, the 3/4 Women on Sunday, cat 3 men on Sunday. Surely there were more starting stretch crashes, but I am only mentioning the ones that I personally witnessed.
Anonymous said…
All the crashes were for different reasons, though. If they were all in the same spot, for the same reason, then you can blame the design. But when people brake chains, roll tires, or swerve while trying to clip in, those are unrelated events.

The exact placement of the fence and finish line can be tweaked, but Colin is correct. Shit happens, even when you try to account for stupidity.
RMM said…

I hate to press the issue, but there were too many "coincidences" to blame all of the crashes on rider error. Sure course design didn't break a chain. But when you look back at the crashes, most of them happened because of the bottleneck right after the starting grid. Some of the drama took 50 meters of road to play out, some occurred immediately.

I am not saying that the course designers did anything wrong. But if the start is designed the EXACT same way next year, after observing the pile ups that happened this year, I'd cry negligence. Live and learn. Redesign the start for NoHo.
kevin said…
It took me about 10 minutes to read through this post and squint at the pictures. Sunday, I had to analyse very similar information in less than a second.

dude down in front of me, run into him or dive for open pavement, squeeze right? right's going left, DOWN.

read that as fast as you can; take a cheese grater to the left side of your hip, elbow and knee; and it's like you were right there in the pile up.
rob said…
I agree, if NoHo ignores all of this evidence and simply blames "rider stupidity"... that would be a great shame. those subtle fence squeezes were a nightmare at the back of the pack.

the same riders got thru safe at PVD and G-ster starts... all of the sudden they left their brains at home for NoHo???

Rob Bauer
Unknown said…
starting on grass like the catamount races just became a lot more appealing. I generally enjoyed the new course layouts and prefer this start to the one on top of the hill where everyone is squeezing for the immediate right hand turn but I also got off in the second row and was able to avoid the carnage that many others didn't.

adam, is there any valid reason we couldn't stage on the grass for the start? uci rules be damned because we know VT gets away with zero pavement...
G-ride said…
I was playing the roll of Will Dugan in the M123 35+ race. I was 4th row (yay points!) but had the choice of middle slot, or all the way to the right. I hate the very outside lane and have a personal rule to never take it. I even tried to trade it with the guy next to me, and almost pulled that off.

I lined up way left Saturday (second row in). I thought that had a nasty slow up thing going on, and so I consciously planned on picking the right side Sunday. What I did not think thru or notice is what Colin pointed out, the left side actually comes across the right side. There were sort of two pinches/slight turns so that BOTH sides had a bit of a wrinkle, but at different points in the chute.

Anyway, I was squeezed into the barriers and it scared the crap out of me. I can say that other than at nats, I have never started in a fenced chute, and its a whole new skill set. You Pros are used to it, I supposed. But the metal fencing is definitely a "new" feature to the lower cats. We are not used to having a drop dead line like that.

I am not going to make any suggestions as I dont know shit. Other than to say it made the start/finish alot safer from a spectator standpoint, but it was tricky as hell from mid pack in the age groupers cause it lasted so long.
Nathaniel Ward said…
Re: the start, I think the fencing might be to blame. I know it's pretty common, but it seems to me that start chutes that feel constrictive lead to a little bit of panic, and nowhere to go for the riders on the outside as opposed to taped off starts, or just plain wider roadways like Gloucester. I don't see that as a design flaw so much, just something I've noticed: riders on the outside have nowhere to go with a fence, but you can "ride the tape" on your hip pretty safely if you get pushed, and wider is wider.

Re: the videos/pictures. I will try never again to presume to know what caused a crash. From my perspective I assumed everything started on the left, I don't remember seeing Ricky go down at all. I did shut the door on someone, deliberately, who tried to get by me, and I guess that was Bradley or possibly Wayne Bray who started next to me. My assumption was that either Nick Keough or someone else to my left had gotten their bars tangled in the fence. I also thought I saw Jake Keough bump McNicholas, which was closer to Ricky...

I wound up hitting someone in front of me and getting hit from behind which spun me around 180 degrees. I slid backwards along the fence with both feet on the ground, still on my bike and came to a stop facing the finish line. Weirdest thing I have ever done on a bike.

Anyway, my point is, none of the chain reaction stuff was apparent to me at all at the time. And it seems likely that the two crashes were separate and simultaneous. Just goes to show you how distorted/limited our perspective can be in a situation like that. Then again, I suppose the outside view is distorted too because there are so many subtle shifts and points of contact between riders, it's impossible to pinpoint what causes the actual first fall.

More importantly, how is Nick? Hope he's ok.
Anonymous said…
so the weird thing is it was the same start both Saturday and Sunday and no one crashed on Saturday (except for on the grass which was due to a broken chain).....
Colin R said…
Anon: I was on the right side Saturday and definitely had to brake twice to stay out of the fence. Saturday's lack of a crash no more proves the safety of the start than Sunday condemns it. We need a bigger sample size; anyone want to meet me in Noho Saturday to try again?
RMM said…
While I am happy for the lively discussion of the elite men's race, I see no one addressing the fact that there were similar crashes in loewr category events as well.

Also, I agree with Rosey, why can't we start on the grass?
Anonymous said…
There's a pile up in the start at Gloucester nearly every year. Big races, nervous fields, bend in the road, narrowing at high speed. Where's the outrage?

We're obviously paying attention and we already have planned changes. Any time you do something for the first time, you learn what to improve for the second time around. But since I was both sides of the fence, too, and around for every crash, I saw them all caused by different reasons. Mechanical failure was one, rider error was another.

And there was no "bottleneck." The fence was the same width from the start line to the curb. There was a gentle curve, but it was even on both sides the length of the start. 8 lanes, 75 meters wide, all the way to the turn.

To quote DSJ: “My tactic is always the same, to stay in front, because I’m kind of powerful but sloppy so I just stay in front and then just try to cause lots of chaos." Maybe you can take that up with him.
Anonymous said…
And any time you start with "I hate to x but y," then we all know what's coming next, don't we?
Colin R said…
RMM: I too am shocked that the comments on a blog post have stuck to the topic of said blog post, instead of deviating into a discussion about a Cat 3 crash that no one seems to have any details on.
kevin said…
allow me to paraphrase:

"no one crashed, except for the crash" -anon

saturday's crash was about 3 seconds further down the course than sunday's. are we pretending that there wasn't a crash at the start on saturday?

You can't design a start that avoids broken chains, rolled tires, elbows, shoulders, or over-lapped wheels; but you can design a start where these inevitable mishaps don't take out half the field.
Anonymous said…
The cat 3/4 women's crash on Sunday was from a rider missing her pedal and turning across the lane. Again, completely unrelated to the fence or the start set up. This is my point. There is very little evidence here for anything but a collection of coincidences. That doesn't mean we won't evaluate ways to make the start better. We have ALWAYS done that. But you're looking for an easy answer here and there isn't one. For the majority of the races the start worked perfectly and was a big improvement over previous years narrow road and cinder first corner.
Colin R said…
but you can design a start where these inevitable mishaps don't take out half the field.

I'm not sure you can, actually. Look at the day 1 crash, Bradley and Mannion went down on the inside of the first turn and the carnage spilled outward to the far tape. Even if the tape wasn't there, everyone would still have been riding on the inside because it's the shortest line. When guys in the 2nd/3rd row crash, a field of 50 is pretty much fucked. Even on day 2, move that fence and we still all crash, but instead of getting held up by the fence you fall over the curb. Let's not pretend we could have magically jumped that curb, in traffic, with guys falling on us.
Nathaniel Ward said…
Saturday's crash was also rider mistakes. Josh Dillon broke his chain about 50 meters into the race, sat down and rode in a straight line. He wasn't even still in the group when the big crash happened at the curb.

And let me be clear just because: you can design starts any way you want and people will make mistakes and fall off their bikes. It's a race. So I don't think Adam & Co. need to be held to task here for putting the rest of us at undue risk. I happen to think that tall fences make people make bad decisions. I can't explain it really, but I think the lack of apparent options leads to a little panic=bad decision making. That doesn't mean don't use them, but it does mean maybe when there is a nice wide grassy straightaway just ahead that we can chill the fuck out as riders and wait to pass until we don't need to chop anyone to do it.

And since nobody had mentioned it, by the way, I think the major success of the start this year was allowing more space before any technical sections for the race to sort out and riders to move up. I worried less about my position on the pavement because I knew I would have plenty of chances to move up on the grass. And even with the crashes I found it personally easier to move up in the 1st half a lap than any other UCI race I have done this year. Really there was what, one sharp turn in the first 500 meters of the race? The crashes mean that people are taking too many risks, fences or not.
Anonymous said…
Anon, I thought Saturday's crash was caused by a rolled tubular? - Anon.
Colin R said…
Anon: Saturday's crash was, IMO:

1) Dillon breaks chain, riders start going around him
2) Bradley goes around right before the curb and bunny hops diagonally/awkwardly
3) Bradley and Mannion come together and shit is fucked
4) Mannion's tubular comes off because he's riding it sideways.

Granted that tubulars came 100% off (never a good sign) but the crash started with that tubular on the rim.

Colin R said…
For what it's worth, I talked with one of the Cat 3 women who got crashed out onto her face at the bottom of the 3/4 pileup. She concurs with Adam that the crash was due to another rider's error, and thinks that this year's NoHo start was much safer than in previous years. From a bike handling perspective, a slight left onto grass is safer than a sharp right onto gravel.
Anonymous said…
Colin - from what I can see in the Saturday video (can't see Dillon anywhere) is Bradley landing from a little curb-hop and going straight down (due to his rolled tubular) which takes Gavin down with him then comes Brodrick and McNicholas. just what I see in the video... maybe you could deconstruct that one frame by frame too :D - Anon
Colin R said…
Oh, did Bradley roll a tubular also? The guy who had a tubie completely off the rim was Mannion (blue), but you're right, Bradley went down pretty fast, maybe he rolled one as well. In which case... wtf guys.
RMM said…
I would like to clarify that I do not want to take Myerson and Co. to task. They made a change to the course that seemed like a good idea before they did it.

One of the great things about Adam is his willingness to listen to differing opinions and to take those opinions seriously.

There is something about the start that SEEMS to make crashes more likely.
Brian said…
Seems to me that old start had one good attribute-- it was sketchy enough that people would just accept it and ride more cautiously.

Also, being a non-confrontational but pseudo-competitive person, the other issue is first-lap all stars. If you're not consistently getting UCI points (or top 20, etc) realize this: you have 60 minutes to ride...don't think a going crazy to get a great start is going to save you 49 minutes in when Driscoll is coming around to lap through. Relax and let the course make the race.

As a bad starter/sprinter, I always got annoyed at being plugged up by B fodder that would die half a lap in. Granted that's a self-serving/irrational opinion, but it gave me something to be bitch about when I botched so many front rows starts last season.
Anonymous said…
From a bike handling perspective, a slight left onto grass is safer than a sharp right onto gravel.

Similar to Brian's comment, maybe this is part of the problem:

Last year's start: Everyone knew that the first turn was sketchy so it's possible folks approached the start sprint with a hint of caution.

This year's start: slight left onto grass is full gas with a wide course, everybody was thinking a good clip-in and start sprint would put 'em up front.

Couple this slightly different attitude with subtle but important start chute features that no one got to recon at speed (course bends, curb hop) and I think you've got some contributing factors, but not explicit causes. Bike racing is situational so some results can be hard to predict.

Eric K.
Anonymous said…
There's something about dying that makes people believe in God, too.

I like both Erik and Brian's comments. Similar to racing in the rain, people have a certain amount of "oh, this is sketchy, we should be careful."

But I also think there are too many people who think what happens in the first minute is as important as what happens in the next 59.

Anyway, we'll sort it out. And more importantly, can we talk about the podium girls?
Colin R said…
Adam: if i had video footage of your podium girls making out with juniors, I would have done a frame-by-frame deconstruction of that as well.
G-ride said…
good points at the end here. I will add that every year I have done Noho, I remember people (in Masters) telling each other not to be stupid cause the first corner is dicey. I never saw an incident at a start in any race I was in.

Isn't that funny. Its impossible to predict human reactions accurately.
trackrich said…
Adam, I gotta admit... when I was looking through the race photos one of the first reactions I had was "Myerson got frickin podium girls?! How awesome is that?"
Rickey Visinski said…
I just need to chime in on the shit happens. I can say I am pretty sure I was the first guy on the deck on Sunday. Yes, I was that guy, I can admit it. However, I know Dylan wasn't trying to take me out and I was trying to take anyone else out, but when you have 50+ riders fighting for a finite space, shit happens. He got bounced around, I got bounced around, we crossed wheels and I have an awesome burn mark on my tire as proof I almost saved it...unfortunately crashes happen. There is an amount of risk we all accept otherwise we would be knitting. Adam and everyone involved in the race did an awesome job...of course I wished I stayed upright and my legs didn't suck, but I wish I had millions of dollars too.
Anonymous said…
Ricky's comment reminds me... At Beacon, the front group split because the Swiss kid blew a turn, went into the sand, over corrected, and t-boned Jerome Townsend. All hell broke loose, and that's how Weighall and Broderick got clear. The chase group got organized and we were chasing ok, and eventually Scherz made it back to us. He really started driving it and we were making good time, until he blew another turn in the same spot, caught a tree, and bounced back into the group. The ENTIRE chase group either crashed or stopped, all 6 dudes, and I had a bruise the shape of Grifo tread about 6 inches long on my thigh, since I was the one Scherz bounced back in to.

Clearly, the organizers should have removed both the sand and the tree! And all Swiss riders!
Anonymous said…

bikes are hard
RMM said…

While I appreciate the humor and wittiness of your last comment, it fails to address the issue at hand: the responsibility of organizers to route a course to minimize the danger imposed by natural obstacles. Courses should be made challenging while balancing the need to maintain an acceptable level of rider safety.

If a rider is making sketchy moves in a race, you yell at him. If a course design is dangerous, you let the organizer know.

I realize that you are frustrated because you put your heart and soul into this race. We all appreciate that. It was/is/will-continue-to-be a great race. But this doesn't change the fact that for unforeseeable reasons the new start is dangerous.

I didn't crash or even come close to crashing. But I am personally offended that you are calling our cyclocross racing brethren and sistren (sp) foolish and inept while trying to assign blame for each individual crash instead of just acknowledging that there is a overarching problem and committing to redesign the start differently next year.
Anonymous said…
I think you're missing my point.

What I'm saying is, do you think any of you really care about his more than I do, or are thinking/talking about it more than I am with my own staff?

What I'm saying is, I got it. Move on. People are now offering input just to feel heard, not because they have anything new or interesting to add to the conversation.

I've been improving this race for 19 years. Do any of you really think I'm just going to all of sudden stop paying attention to how the race went or think about ways I can make it better or safer, when that's ALWAYS been the case?

Feedback noted. Talk about something more interesting now.
Unknown said…
If this becomes about rolled tubulars in 'cross you should actually talk to Adam or myself about how to glue tubulars. If your tubular is coming off after a bunny hop, even landing a little sketch, it wasn't on there well enough anyways.

This is a repost by SICX of what I posted on the Echappe facebook page:

If you can push the tire off, its not on there. For 'cross you should have to use a knife or severe solvent to remove that tire.
Wheels said…
Throw a bone ($200) to a pack of hungry wolves (bikers) in a cage (starting fence) and there's going to be some biting (crashing).
Rickey Visinski said…
Hey RMM, I hate to sound like I am calling you out because I don't know you personally, but your post struck a cord. There is no way to make bike racing perfectly safe. Removing as many natural hazards as possible is a bs cop-out. There were no spike pits, land mines, or moats with alligators on the course. This is the same reason why mountain bike races have turned into dirt road races. Either learn how to ride your bike and accept the fact that there is risk involved, or ride recreationally in a non-competitive setting and take up knitting. Once you start down the path of removing "natural obstacles" to make the course as safe as possible, there won't be any more bike racing. We will all be stuck racing on computrainers until someone dies of a heart attack and that gets banned too.
RMM said…

I agree with you entirely. Risk is part of the sport. I ride hard and crash plenty. And I have no problem with it.

You must have misunderstood my previous comments or allowed Adam's comments to color what I wrote.

I don't want risk removed, but I also don't want risk added.

There were many problems with the start of the race, Adam has stated that he plans to reevaluate the start for next year. This is all that I wanted in the first place.

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