They fall like leaves from a tree Saturday, the riders in Omloop het Nieuwsblad. A crash always looks nasty, but most of the time all the riders get up again and continue the race. Like nothing happened, as if it doesn’t hurt. In the first minutes it doesn’t, actually.
In the women’s race of the Omloop it’s the same. We are a herd of cows who are finally allowed outside again after a long winter: we soar away on our bikes, over-enthusiastic, super-nervous. Moving briskly, bumping into each other, we race across Flanders. After months of training everyone is eager. The pecking order in the peloton has to be restored again. And that’s where accidents happen. Especially in the back of the peloton there are a lot of crashes. That’s why it’s important to stay at the front. That’s not easy, with two hundred girls who want exactly the same thing, on the narrow wet roads full of potholes and stretches of cobbles. So also in the front it’s dangerous and hectic.
Once we’ve passed the Nokereberg I bring my jacket and gloves to the team leader’s car. It’s warmer than I expected and not long from now we hit the Côte de Trieu, where the race normally explodes. I ride at the right side of the road, I’m almost back at the front and then I see it happening. From the left side of the bunch girls fall like domino tiles, crashing over the full width of the road. We ride downhill, fast, 60k/h. I brake and brake and brake, almost come to a stand still, it seems I’m saving my skin but then I see and feel two, three riders crashing into me from behind, pulling me down on my left side. One girl topples over me.
In a couple of seconds a lot happens. The rider on top of me says sorry. I get up. At my left hand side, a blond girl lies on the asphalt, screaming loud. She’s bleeding. I stretch my back, feel something snapping in my left shoulder. There’s something not right, I think, while I grab my bike. My handle bars are square. I try to pull them straight, meanwhile inspecting my arms and legs to see what the damage is. The handle bars don’t move.
I put my arm in the air to warn the jury and my team leader, see that my chain also dropped off and give another glance at the blond girl. She is still screaming. Blue lights flicker, an ambulance pulls over close to us. Our mechanic runs towards me, pulls my bike out of my hands and tries to straighten the handle bars. With my finger tips I touch my shoulder. My collarbone, to be exact. And I feel what I fear: a sharp edge, under the skin. Bone sticking out. Like a snapped branch.
In a couple of seconds everything is different. The moving house I was supposed to start today. The whole winter of training hard. The last preparations, where I’m in the middle of, to be in top shape in the Ronde van Drenthe and Flanders. Our mechanic says he’s going to get my spare bike and runs off.
I check my shoulder again, although I don’t need to because I know very well what I just felt and I start to walk. Past the still screaming girl, through the chaos of the crashed peloton, the broken carbon and the riders who try to get back to their feet and bikes. My team leader sees me coming and gestures that I have to get back to my bike. Leave it, I tell him through the opened window, my collarbone is broken. I am so dead calm he hardly believes me.
I close my eyes, shake my head and wish I could turn back time for half an hour. I hope to wake up. I pray this is not happening. If only riders were leaves, we would whirl, instead of smash.