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WEDNESDAY, MAY 2, 2007
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Wrecks, injuries job hazards for crit riders

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

Put yourself in a cyclist's clip in shoes.

Pretend you are riding around a track going speeds of more than of 40 mph with nothing but your skin and a helmet to protect you.

Then add hundreds of competitors on the track, and it's a situation that can breed pain, agony and injury.

"We're all adrenaline junkies," joked AEG-Toshiba JetNetwork team captain Chris Frederick.

In cycling's case, adrenaline junkie is a synonym for being a little loose and a little crazy.

While there are several precautions in cycling to make sure that races go as safely as possible, there is still a chance for something to happen. Racing teams say anything can happen at The Decatur Daily Downtown Criterium on Sunday.

The risk of serious injury is there in every sport, but professional cycling has a different persona. The helmet is the most well-known safety device, but even that can't protect from broken bones or serious bodily injuries.

"People have died before, but it doesn't happen every day," said Jeffery Hopkins, an Australian rider with the Jittery Joe's team, based in Athens, Ga. "I saw one guy a few weeks ago get a bunch of tendons get ripped out in his arm."

According to riders, a criterium is really no safer and no more dangerous than your typical road race.

Riders bunch up and then spread out at different points in the race with crashes occurring not too often, but not frequently either.

The main area where a crash can occur is in the corner, where riders have to time their entry and take the best possible line.

But the corner also serves a purpose to slow the riders down and spread out the field.

If there is a crash in the corner, fewer riders go down than in the straightaway.

Normally in a criterium, the main injury is, as one rider put it "taking off some skin" or something akin to a rug burn.

"When the bike slides out and you start sliding, you and the bike are going to get scraped up," said Tom Schuler, team manager for the Colavita-Sutter Home team. "You'll land on your hip and get a bruise, but you can ride in the race with those injuries."

If an accident occurs, one of the more important safety measures in cycling is to stay with the bike. Like a car, the bike can absorb some of the energy in a crash.

Inanimate objects such as fire hydrants, light poles or the sidewalk can be one of the main contributors to injuries in a criterium — those and amateur riders trying to make names for themselves.

Hopkins says that you can get a group of riders who are trying to latch on with one of the bigger teams by using some aggressive tactics.

"The amateurs want to make a statement, and the pros want to win so they can eat," Hopkins says.

While the danger element is there in cycling, if riders are careful and respectful, there will be a good clean race.

"I had a broken wrist in 2004," Hopkins said.

"A guy hit me from the side, and down I went, and my wrist blew up like a balloon. Had a couple of screws put in, was in a cast for six weeks and came back for the rest of the season."

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