Hit and run

Dutch courage

Don’t know him –
Never met him. Probably never will.
Just another skinny guy
In shiny shorts and sponsor’s jersey
Getting paid for doing something
The rest of us do for love.

But in a breathless
I-don’t-believe-this instant
The car swerves
Wheels touch
And Johnny’s spinning off the road
Somersaulting into a barbed-wire fence
At forty miles an hour
While a billion stomachs
Take an express elevator down a hundred floors
And all France is swept
By a mistral of gasps and blasphemy.

And suddenly
I’m right there with him,
A brother in the hit-from-behind nightmare
Those of us who ride the road
Must smother daily;
Each of the three-dozen stitches
In his gouged and shredded skin
A tally-mark for a million times
It didn’t happen;
And a knot tied to remind us
That it can.

A truly horrendous – and unforgiveable – crash on yesterday’s stage of Le Tour, from which the Spanish rider Juan Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland were lucky to escape with their lives:


I won’t post links to the images of Hoogerland caught up in the barbed-wire fence that have appeared on the web this morning; suffice to say they’re not suitable for those of a nervous disposition. It remains to be seen whether he’ll start on Tuesday (today is the Tour’s first rest day, thank goodness) but if he does, it’ll prove yet again just how tough these riders are; and, on a more troubling level, just how all-important Le Tour has become, and the pain and risks riders are now prepared to accept to stay in it.

10 thoughts on “Hit and run

  1. I had a look at the clip Nick – a prosecution for dangerous driving would seem appropriate, but I don’t imagine it will happen.

    I have a number of friends who cycle regularly – one in particular who uses it as his major mode of transport round Leeds – he has very few good things to say about the standard of driving in the city!!

    You look after yourself on that bike


  2. The miscreant has been thrown off the race, I’m pleased to say – it’s also worth looking on youtube (or catching the first-week highlights on ITV4 at 7pm tonight!) for Johnny Hoogerland’s post-stage interview; he was amazingly philosophical and forgiving about the whole thing. Must say I was a bit wary on my ride today – some of those wing-mirrors do come awful close. Thanks for your good wishes; hope it’s been a better day for you.

  3. Hoogerland’s phlegmatic interview was incredible to watch. To be so calm after such an awful – and preventable – accident in a year which has already seen Weylandt killed (at the Giro), Tondo killed (by a garage door, of all things) and Soler in a coma with possible permanent brain damage … words fail me.

    I’m delighted to read that he will start today’s stage, and I can only hope he makes it all the way to Paris and is feted for his courage and never-say-die determination.

  4. This sounds truly horrible; what a great thing they still have their lives.

    Looking at it from a poetic view I really love the line “while a billion stomachs take an express elevator down a hundred floors” Brilliant! I want to pinch it!


    • It was horrific, actually – one of the worst crashes I’ve seen in 15 years’ Tour-watching. Great to see them both back in the race yesterday after Monday’s rest-day; how long Hoogerland can continue remains to be seen, as his 33 stiches were giving him trouble…hard as nails, these guys. Many thanks for your kind comment, as ever.

  5. I saw this – the news tried to make out that he should be grateful that his son asked ‘does this mean you’ll come home daddy?’. Whilst he might be grateful – it kind of misses the point maybe. He shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into feeling gutted about not being able to finish because of someone else’s stupidity.
    I love contemporary poetry. I love when it pinpoints a moment and is there forever. Fab stuff.

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