To properly understand "The Ambulance Ride" it is advisable to first read "Prequel to The Ambulance Ride".
Chapter 5: The racing carnival
Day 6 (Saturday): Race day. A light 10 mile spin on the road bike before breakfast and I can feel that 27 hours sleep in 2 nights along with yesterdays rest has left me feeling primed for the track. We were racing in the home town of Kenrick Tucker. Kenrick won the sprint at the ’78 Edmonton Commonwealth games. The velodrome was made for him and named after him. It was an exact replica of the track in Brisbane where he would successfully defend his title in ’82. As an international track it was 333.33 metres long with 18 degree banking on the straights and 35 degrees on the curves. When I arrived at the track I was in for another treat. After languishing at the very bottom of A-grade all season the handicappers came to my rescue and ignored my recent (single) good result. I was mercifully put in B-grade and started wiping the floor with all and sundry.
Race 1, 5 mile scratch race, 1st.
Race 2, 1 mile handicap, 1st.
Race 3, 10 mile scratch race… the ambulance ride.
Chapter 6: A technology break
I will pause here and give everyone a technological history lesson. You’ll see why later. If you don’t understand anything about bikes, hang in there. There’s a key WORD at the end of this paragraph. This event took place after the revolutionary bikes used by Australia to win the teams pursuit at the ’84 Olympics in L.A. But disc wheels were still a rarefied commodity as well as being banned from bunch races. My race wheels were Suntour Superbe Pro high flange hubs, 32 hole Mavic GEL280 rims, Clement Track #1 tyres and Hoshi stainless steel blade spokes. The race spares were Campagnolo Record high flange hubs, 32 hole Mavic GL330 rims with Clement Track #3 tyres and Hoshi stainless steel blade spokes. Blade spokes. Think about that. These things were as thin as a business card and about a quarter inch wide, like a knife BLADE.
Chapter 7: The shrieking of metal on concrete
Race 3, 3pm (second by second): A scratch race is probably the easiest race for the hairy-legged folks to understand. A group of riders (24 this day) start together in a bunch. No staggered starts. No prizes for intermediate sprints. No funny business. Just like the distance events in athletics. All the money is on the finish line at the end of the last lap.
B-grade was reputedly the roughest, toughest grade to ride. Everyone in C and D was aware of their own and each others inadequacies and racing was suitably slow, wobbly and relatively safe. A-grade was full of the guys who were recent or current representative riders and a few future stars being tested. The racing was blindingly fast but incredibly smooth. Any rough stuff was very deliberate but within sportsmanlike limits. Then there was B-grade. Full of wanna-be’s and has-beens all thrashing around trying to prove a point.
The whistle blows, away we go. It was possibly the fastest race I had been in. 24 riders were down to 15 before half distance. A couple more were just hanging on the back. Apparently we went through the halfway mark in a time that equates to over 35 mph. I was in the zone (I hate that term). My breathing was completely sub-conscious. My legs were buzzing. Everything was in slow motion. This was certainly going to be my day.
Bunch riding on the velodrome is easy. Half lap turns at the front. Swing off (up) and drop in at the back, or in front of whoever looks like they are about to give up. I was starting to think about how many laps and how many turns to the finish and who to be near and, and, and… I swung off from a turn and dropped back in front of a guy who looked like he was moments from puking. The next guy swung off the front on the next bend. I was comfortably on the back of the line. As he was coming back, someone who was cooked swung up out of the middle of the group and they clashed. Not a perfect shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip bounce of kind of clash. But rather a half overlapping machine damaging tangle. The guy underneath was about 2 feet in front of the higher rider when they hit. The pedal stripped out about a third of the spokes from the front wheel of the high bike. The front wheel was rubbing on the forks with a silk and latex tyre pumped up to 180 psi. BANG! And I was directly below and behind him with nowhere to go.
Who can hold on to a track bike doing 35 mph at the very top of a 35 degree bank with a flat front tyre? Not me! And not him! And even worse, his bike didn’t slip down and out from under him allowing him to slide to a stop using his hip and shoulder for brakes. If this had happened I would have been fine, but he somehow fell over the highside. So he didn’t slow down. He never touched the ground. He just rolled through the air and presented the fleshy part of his back below the shoulder to my BLADE spokes (I told you the technology speech was relevant). He fell straight through my trajectory and swept my front wheel away to the left causing me to dive head first into the concrete to my right.
Chapter 8: The shrieking of humans in pain
The next thing I remember was a lot of shouting and people running everywhere.
I was sitting leaning against a towel on somebody’s chest. The other guy was close by and bleeding quite a lot from the filleting I gave him and ended up with over 80 stitches in his back and upper arm. He got the first ambulance. I couldn’t feel any real damage. Just a bit of stinging from sweat in road rash. I went to get up and was pulled down by the person I was leaning on. I told them I was fine and needed to check my bike before the race was restarted. Several people told me to sit still and wait for the second ambulance. No-one would tell me why or show me my bike and I struggled to break free. Someone said “stop, you’re hurt” and showed me the towel I was leaning my head on. Blood was dripping off it. Now I felt a bit light headed.
The ambulance arrived and everyone around me was relieved but I knew immediately that I was in serious trouble. I was 350 miles from home but one of the paramedics was a school friend of mine who lived 2 streets from me. I had only been on the ground for a few minutes and he had driven 350 miles to attend to me. “Craig?” “Sit still Michael and we’ll have a look at you.” I knew I was dead and threw up from the shocking truth before me. But at the same time another friend came into sight to show me my bike. It was perfect. I asked him to change the wheels just in case, and called him a tubby red headed git as was customary between us. (My apologies to all you carrot-topped, freckle-faced, Danny Bonaduce looking suckers out there.)
Chapter 9: The Ambulance Ride
I know I passed out during the ambulance ride because my head felt like it would explode when the driver used the brakes and the blood surged to my injured face. 3 stitches above the right ear stopped the bleeding. Skull x-rays found a crack from the right orbit about 5 inches long. It hurt to breathe deeply but the x-ray showed no rib damage. That was it. 3 stitches and a 5 inch crack in the skull. So far.
The crack was assessed as stable and I was released within 2 hours of arriving, with a friend given instructions to wake me every 2 hours through the night to check that sleep hadn’t been replaced by a coma.
That was a bit of an anti-climax wasn’t it?
Chapter 10: Back to the Track
When I got back to the velodrome I couldn’t find my prime race wheels anywhere. It turns out that the guy who caused the accident had potato chipped his wheels in the crash. My wheels looked straight so he grabbed them. I looked them over and pointed out the crazing that had discoloured the anodising on the rims and wished him luck (the conversation was also speckled with my opinions of his bike skills and his parentage).
When I came back to the velodrome I put on my other skinsuit and went for a spin on the road bike. I felt a bit congested in the right sinus and used the cyclists handkerchief (if you don’t know, you don’t need to know) and felt a pop in my cheek. I had burst a blood vessel in my eye socket when I pressurised the sinus cavity blowing my nose and this closed my right eye like a prize fighter. Apart from that I felt well enough to race. I found my track bike and went to the chief commissaire to let him know I would be in the next of my races. Because I couldn’t see he said I was a danger to other riders and would have to sit out the carnival. Mongrel.
Chapter 11: Bloody Doctors
I rang mum to let her know how I was going but didn’t tell her I had crashed. Just that I had some bike problems but I was fine. I caught the bus 350 miles home on Monday. Mum met me at the bus depot and screamed like I have never heard. She took me to our GP and I had some more x-rays. They showed up a crack that ran from my upper jaw into the bottom of my right eye socket. It still hurt to breath and they were talking about torn rib cartilage against the spine or deep tissue bruising. After 4 rounds of x-rays the radiologist just started taking random x-rays from undocumented angles and perspectives to try and find something – anything. And there it was 37 days after the accident they found 3 crushed vertebrae at T3-T5.
And to this day I have pins and needles in my right cheek and a numb patch between my shoulder blades about the size of my open hand.
But after the 21.8 hours of MOAB I had a spectacular knick tan.
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This photo is of a different bike after a different accident. On the last bend of a $2000.00 wheelrace 3 people dropped right in front of me. The bike stopped dead just like when a mountain bike hits a tree stump (ref: potato chip front wheel) except I was doing close to 40 mph. I went forward over the bars. The bike and I as a unit pivoted about our centre of gravity doing almost a complete somersault before the back wheel slammed into the ground. The back rim is in 4 completely separate pieces. I had amazing bruises on the points of both heals, but nothing else. The bike got a wheel change and I raced again the same night.