Why did Tom Dumoulin crash?


You could almost hear the groan echo round the cycling world when Tom Dumoulin crashed out of this year’s Giro.  It’s impossible not to like him:  he’s charismatic on and off the bike.

I don’t actually know why he crashed.  I wasn’t there.  I’ve only seen the TV footage and it didn’t show very much.  This blog isn’t specifically about that crash.  It’s really to do with the number and the type of crashes that happen in bike races these days at all levels, but particularly at the highest level where inexperience and incompetence cannot be offered as an excuse.

Of course it’s almost inevitable that crashes happen in bike races.  Fundamentally the outcome of many races is determined by whoever decides that not winning is actually better than crashing.  It’s amazing that there are not more crashes when riders are fighting for position and the already limited amount of space available is changing all the time.

But the crash that took Tom out, like so many crashes in modern day racing, didn’t happen while riders were fighting for space, or racing through tight corners, or over cobbles.  It wasn’t caused by road furniture, a sudden slowing of the bunch or a dog running into the road.  It happened several kilometres from the finish on a straight, smooth piece of roads, and it happened at the front of the bunch where there was plenty of space.  

I think that this type of crash and the amount of damage that they cause are consequences of the bikes that racers are using, or, more specifically, the set up.   Anyone who rides a steep-angled time trial bike knows that they’re no fun to ride on the base bar.  Apart from the discomfort of having so much weight on your hands and arms they’re very twitchy.   

Yet a lot of racers, Tom included, ride a bike very much like this for bunch races.  

And twitchiness isn’t the only disadvantage:  like Tom, people tend to ride them with their hands on the hoods.  This is a 5h1t position for emergency braking.  Squeeze the levers and…   

  • your hands shoot off the front of the hoods unless you squeeze really tight which locks up the front wheel…
  • your bike slows suddenly and you, with all your momentum, shoot forwards off the front of the saddle…
  • you tense all of the muscles in your arms and shoulders…
  • all of your weight goes over the front wheel…

…whatever happens next you have NO control over.

This type of setup is popular because it makes it easy to generate power with the quads.   And at high speed with good momentum and good aerodynamics that’s very effective.  It’s also ‘popular’ because the modern production framesets and components that every professional rides effectively mandate it.  

The consequence is a peloton of riders on twitchy bikes with very little control when they brake.  The next time you’re watching professional racers on the TV look at how much their bikes weave around on the road, how much bobbing of heads there is when they’re under pressure, how uneasy they look going round corners and how few of them use their drops.

Read more about this in some of my previous blogs:

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