Dangerous Descents

I don’t think it’s just me because the French folks on France 3 are talking about it, too: there have been quite a lot of crashes in this 2nd part of the 2020 season, many of which have been on descents, of course.

We all saw the horrible images of Remco Evenepoel diving over the parapet and into the vide, as the commentators called it. My stomach sank as I saw the video nearly live. When you see a bike leaning up against a low wall with no rider attached to it, the imagination takes you places, especially when you’ve descended down hundreds of roads like this.

Remco is alive and more or less well, if you call a broken pelvis ‘well’. Of course it could have been much worse.

Today, John and I went into our local mountains for a loop that included a dodgy (even by Cévennes standards) descent on a very narrow road with not even the appearance of some safety in places, like the wall above. Just a road that drops freely into the vide.

But here’s where things get complicated. I – and I know I’m not the only one – love these kinds of descents. I of course love safer ones, too, but it could very well be that the more dangerous the road, the more I feel ‘alive’. The great Alain Robert (that ‘spiderman’ guy who has been free-soloing tall buildings for decades) has said the same thing about his many solo climbs and I’m sure that some of you will agree, at least to some degree. It’s the antithesis of the slow death march that I often feel I’m engaged in when climbing to the top of steep hills.

I should say that I’m no daredevil and that I nearly always descend ‘safely’. That said, I don’t fear it at all, which I realize could be a problem someday, but I long ago decided to not ‘race’ a downhill. I did have some close calls when I first started riding and quickly realized that the risk-benefit ratio was quite high when riding too hard down mountains.

Which brings me back to Evenepoel. I think that Vincenzo Nibali had put in one of his famous descending attacks in Lombardia yesterday and Evenepoel had lost a little time on the Nibali group. He was, naturally, ‘racing’ the descent, which is completely normal because, well, he’s a bike racer. There is another blog article in here about whether ‘dangerous descents’ should be included in races (there have been complaints about the descent above, as well as one yesterday in the Dauphiné), but all I want to say about this is that bike racers are fearless monsters. If you want to see what I mean, check out Sivakov’s crash today in the Dauphiné. He lost control of his bike, fell hard and hit his head on the pavement, got up and chased Alaphilippe down again at the front of the race. Not a moment’s pause.

(Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

18 thoughts on “Dangerous Descents

  1. Hey Gerry – what you call riding safely down a hill is all-out racing, way outside the safety envelope for others.

    I just remember my first Haute Route with you and watched as you screamed down the first hill and I thought to myself, “well, if he can go that fast, I guess it’s ok for me too”. Ever since then, I’ve been quite comfortable descending at high speed, but I needed someone to show it was safe to do so. If I hadn’t seen how fast you rode downhill I would have never pushed past my internal fear factor.

    • I love riding down mountains at 70+ kph but also know if i hit something im going to be a bug on the windscreen.

    • I’m glad you could learn something from me, Rob. I always feel like it’s been a one-way street. Oh, and I still haven’t hit 100 kph, so you’ve gotten something on me still!

  2. I was thinking about that a while ago after descending a hill with a tail wind at a over 100 Km/hr. 🚴‍♂️💨💨💨

  3. I’m glad Evenopoel survived that nasty crash. Hopefully he recovers fully as i am looking forward to seeing how far his star can rise. I love descending too and speed is nice but not always necessary to get that exhilarating feeling. I was out with a couple guys yesterday and we all said ‘wow that was great’ despite me descending at a faster rate then they did. At one point i was going quite slowly while taking a quick look back to see where my friends were, just as a Tesla rounded the corner. I think we both scared the crap out of each other (and she expressed her displeasure with a honk). So the descents can be nasty even at a slower speed. A little care and attention is always good.

    • I’m glad that you and the Tesla are fine, Luc, and you’re right; my few accidents have not been because of speed, but due to a momentary lapse of concentration. As for slow descents, one of my favorites was with a client a few years back, on a long 2 or 3% grade, just winding down a lovely road with open views. It’s just a different kind of ‘exhilarating’!

  4. I’m renowned for fast descents, even as a septuagenarian, just love that feeling of judgement and sinuousness at speed. Having been a mountaineer and whitewater paddler the risk seems low compared to some stuff I’ve done..

    • I haven’t done those other things, so can only imagine that the stakes are higher on a high mountain or a raging river. All is relative, for sure.

      How do you find your reaction time, etc. on descents these days? I have noticed a lot of things deteriorating in my 50s but not my descending.

      • Reactions seem as fast as ever, but who knows, how can I compare? Most deterioration seems to in an advance of forgetfulness (but was always a bit so anyways) and a inability to sleep through the night completely for sanitary reasons. Otherwise still enjoying life immensely.

  5. Racers gonna race. Nothing wrong with that. But with that in mind, maybe some ski-race-style netting at the “known-bad” corners? Did you hear Lawson Craddock gently trash-talking the UCI about this?

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