Five cyclists were injured during a popular road cycling event this last Saturday, the 1,000 Warriors Bicycle Race. The amateur race gives non-professionals the chance to ride the same course as the tough 4th mountain stage of the Tour of Utah– just 5 hours before the actual pro tour. It is set up as a fundraiser for scholarship for children of wounded soldiers– a very challenging race for a good cause. The event was marred when a driver of an SUV apparently became nervous when a vehicle pulling a trailer up the narrow American Fork Canyon swerved toward the SUV’s lane, according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune. The driver apparently panicked and slammed on its brakes, just as 5 riders traveling at speeds estimated near 45 miles per hour came from behind the SUV. At least 2 of the riders, all from Mesa, Arizona’s Red Mountain Brumbys cycles club, hit the back of the vechicle, and 3 other crashed trying to avoid the impact. One of the riders went through the rear window, lacerating his head and upper body and severing an artery. Only through the quick thinking of two of the cyclists who were EMTs was the critically injured rider, Dave Collins, a 45-year-old real estate developer from Arizona, able to be quickly stabilized and transferred by helicopter to the University Hospital.
The details of the accident still need to be determined and analyzed. Nevertheless, the accident raises several questions. Why was the roadway not cleared for such a popular race, in such a narrow canyon? Due to the topography, the road is very steep, leading to very high speeds for cyclists. According to the Tribune, the race organizer, Rick Bennett, he had tried to gain a permit to close the Alpine Loop, a very popular canyon road for cyclist and campers. This was denied. According to a UDOT spokesperson, the permit was ostensibly denied because of the difficulty in denying access to other users of the canyon. The Tribune article reported that the permit had only been submitted days before the race. Whatever the real facts turn out to be, there were apparently inadequate safety controls in the canyon to minimize dangerous traffic congestion where such large numbers of bike riders would be traveling down the canyon at such high rates of speed.
If the race organizers were aware of this, they should have warned the riders that there were no controls in place, and to limit the speed in the presence of other vehicles on the road. I have participated in large cycling events on public roads where there is little or no police presence. Riders are usually told in those situations that they must comply with the rules of the road and obey traffic signals. Currently, it is unknown what the riders were told.
The article is also unclear about the circumstances leading up to the accident. Was there a blind corner? Did the driver of the SUV over-react and unsafely stop short? Was the driver impatient or scared by the presence of the bikers? Were these bikers involved in the accident following too closely? Had other bikers unsafely passed or spooked the driver prior to the accident?
Certainly, bike riders on a mountainous and technical course such as this, have a right to expect that they will be permitted to ride at near-top speed, especially where it is advertised as a chance to ride Tour’s 4th stage course, just prior to the actual pro race. They were given the thrill of experiencing the same challenging course as the professionals. Race directors should have realized this. Without some means of minimizing the exposure of the cyclists to the motoring public on the course, the chances of an accident of this type were increased.
Best wishes to the injured cyclists, especially Dave Collins, as well as the SUV driver, if the driver did not deliberately "stop short" to spook or retaliate some way against the bikers. Hopefully, the facts will come out in order to allow investigators and the parties involved to determine where fault should be allocated. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, one would expect that race organizers will be able to take steps to avoid this dangerous situation for the next year’s event.