Luke Evans is a cycling journalist, author and former editor of Cycle Sport magazine. In his spare time, he pilots top cycling photographer Graham Watson at the races. Currently, he’s taking Graham around the Giro d’Italia.
Monday, May 18. Rest day.
We saw the bike first. A white Giant lying in the road next to the rusty metal railing this side of a near vertical cleft in the hillside.
Braking hard as we came out of the bend the bike was in front of us and I stopped just on the other side to allow Graham to get off and take a picture.
For a moment, counted in seconds but it felt longer, it was just the two of us and that white bike. It looked undamaged.
Moments earlier we had been behind a small group of dropped riders, hanging back as a nervous Milram rider had a torrid time keeping up, his back wheel locking up as he panic braked on the plummeting descent.
Then all went quiet when we rounded the bend and saw the bike. But no rider. I looked up and down the road and over the barrier, nothing. Silence. It was as he had been plucked from the air.
I thought maybe the bike was a spare and had fallen off the roof of a team car.
But Graham knew, he had seen this type of crash before and was looking far down into the ravine for signs of movement, the orange jersey of a Rabobank rider who had been catapaulted over the barrier and landed 60 metres down among rocks and bushes.
Suddenly all hell breaks loose as the next group rounds the bend and the first rider has to bunny hop the Giant to avoid another crash.
GW quickly leans it against the railing as I inch the motorbike forward along the apex. In the mirrors I see Mark Cavendish flash by very close. Team cars and the race doctor stop as more riders come hurtling through the gaps.
Graham takes shot of the Giant against the railings; he did not take a picture of the bike on the ground, there had not been time before the Cavendish group arrived.
A closer look at the bike showed that the rear carbon rim had snapped in two places. The front end was okay, suggesting that the rider had hit the barrier going backwards. Pedro Horillo would have no chance to reach out and slow his fall. He would have had no idea how steep and far the drop was on the other side of this treacherous bend on the Calmine de St Pietro.
As the minutes went by more and more people gathered on the railings looking for Horrillo. A Rabobank team car confirmed that the Giant was not a spare machine. Medics began to hook up lines to the railings and abseil into the ravine. Still not a sign of life.
After 20 minutes we had to go, the race was many kilometres away. Not much was said as we made our way to the bottom of the climb and dodged the crowds in the road as they celebrated the Giro with no knowledge of the terrible event that had just removed one of its colourful players from the scene.
Stage 7, Innsbruck-Chiavenna, 242km
South Tyrol and the Austrian Alps, through which we have travelled over the last two stages, are stunning. There is still snow on the high mountains and the roads are beautifully engineered. The lower slopes are verdant and the little villages with painted churches and elegant spires are a chocolate box makers dream.
It should be heaven for cycling, but the roads are so well executed that they take the shortest route from top to bottom. That makes them just that bit steeper than the passes of France and a true test of fitness, and nerve on the descents.
Yesterday the peloton came screaming off the final climb at well over 100kph. Armstrong said he saw 110kph on his speedo. Dan Lloyd, who stopped for a quick chat before the stage start today, had 2kph more. You are really hoping you don’t have a bike problem at that speed, he said.
Dan has had a superb start on his first big team, Cervelo, and is hoping to work his way back into form after after getting ill at the end of the Classics. He certainly does not need to lose any weight, jeez, the guy is skinny. With a battered top hat and tails he would make a blinding chimney sweep’s assistant.
We are taking photos of Armstrong, who isn’t? Got him today doing a rare thing for a superstar; he came back to the team car for a raincoat instead of getting a gregario to do it for him.
It was us and L’Equipe (almost a scoop) and Lance waved the French bike further away as we cruised at front three-quarters. Nervous? Not surprising considering the hardware in that collarbone and the limited time he has to get ready for the Tour.
Could be nothing but I reckon he is also sitting off the wheel in front by a foot or so. Now that could also be caution, but it could also be a way to work a bit harder, keeping it totally safe, which would also make sense.
He still looks great on the bike; incredibly lean legs and the perfect position. A compact upper body but with the barrel shape of an athlete with a big engine and airbox.
So Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish are not mates anymore? Why would Bradley be making the universal sign of abuse so well earned by merchant bankers, as Cav was trying to say something nice about Innsbruck on the start podium this morning?
It may be an insult to Austrians, but not among Brits. It was quite a touching moment.
PREVIOUS BLOGS FROM THE GIRO
Part one: Kicking off the 2009 Giro