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Monthly Archives: July 2008

If you have not seen the Frank Schleck crash on Stage 5 in the Tour De Suisse, go review it to see how it unfolded. If have already watched it, then you may or may not understand how it happened. Regardless, Schleck was extremely fortunate not to be seriously injured or worse. That said, he has really no one to blame but himself for the a very “basic” mistake.

The Breakdown:

Schlecks crash actually began a minute or so up the road before he actually lost control of his bicycle. Let’s rewind the tape and go back up the mountain to analyze what went wrong and how it could have been avoided. This analysis will preclude any mechanical fault and focus on rider-induced incidents only – and by all indications, the Schleck crash seemed to be just that – rider induced.

As Schleck and Markus Fothen are descending, notice how both riders turn in too early, as most all cyclists do, and is most common in the pro peleton. The difference is that Fothen manages to keep his vision further up the road than Schleck did. Also, Fothen did not panic at the high entry speed into the corner. Apparently, Schleck (from watching the video) perceived his corner entry speed too high, and thought he would not make the corner – so he unclipped his right foot, and most likely was on the binders to slow himself down. But, braking is actually the last thing you want to do when you blow a corner.

By braking, the bicycle or any two wheeled vehicle, tends to “stand up” – meaning the object in question now has an opposing force to the riders input of lean, through body weight and counter-steering and instead of following the arc of the turn wants to go straight on. Braking also inhibits steering input – too much front brake while steering, and the front end will wash out. Too much rear braking destabilizes both the front and the rear of the bike. Consequently those opposing forces cause the chassis/frame to become “upset” or ill-handling which is harder to control – especially at high speeds.

So Schleck and Fothen are flying down the descent in the drops, and just as they pass the stone building on the left, the road starts to bend right – and it’s a decreasing radius right hand blind corner. They both begin their turn-in, (which is about a second or two too early) Schleck is positioned on the inside of Fothen, and Schlecks lean angle is more pronounced than Fothen’s. As Schleck leans more and more into the turn, his perception of where the apex was – is farther up than he anticipated. He then realizes that he is in too hot – too soon, and tries to scrub off some speed, but makes what could have been – fatal mistakes.

The video is not clear enough to tell, nor is the angle of the video conclusive to see if his eyes veered off course. Although it does appear that he “target fixated” on the guard rail and the trees, instead of the road. Once he did that – it was all over. Mind you, this was all happening within about a 5 to 6 second time frame. But high-speed cornering is a split second exercise and craft. Take superbikes or MotoGp – where high-speed cornering decisions happen in mili-seconds.

The point is, that descending at 40 to 50 mph is completely different from the skeleton pace of 25 to 30 mph on the flats, or 15 mph on the climbs. The mental adjustment needed to understand and read the landscape and process that information is enormous, and unfortunately, a lot of riders never come to terms with it. It is a learned craft, not something that comes easy. Descending skills are not a “package” deal just because you are a pro or an elite rider, something that seems lost on the masses as well as the riders themselves.

Schleck may have been able to avoid crashing if he delayed his turn-in about a second or two later than he did. He may also have been able to make the turn – albeit very wide if he counter-steered his bicycle with a very firm and decisive input on the right bar. Furthermore, keeping his head up,  eyes looking “through” the corner towards the exit of the turn. Sounds easy – right?

Well, no it’s really not. But when you are a pro rider descending mountain passes at 50 mph – it is a critical and possibly life-saving set of skills. The point at which he unclipped – Schleck had already made the decision to bail instead of trying to think his way out of the inevitable crash. Yes, he maybe had a second to think about it, but it was a crucial second that could have ended his life.

The conclusion is that Schlecks crash was his own fault, his own mistake, that probably could have been prevented. Of course it is not 100% known for sure and there is some slight conjecture in the analysis. The best part of the incident was that Schleck came away unhurt and will live to race another day. Unfortunately, this type of crash will happen again and again, and all riders whether  recreational to pro who continue to make the mental mistakes will pay a high price – possibly the  ultimate.

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