The Curse of the Commentator

Peta McSharry laments some enforced time off the bike.

How many times have I watched a cycle race on TV where the commentator makes a remark about a cyclist only to “jinx” them where they end up crashing or losing a race through bad luck. Too many to remember, that’s for sure, so there must be something in it.

Luck is a funny thing and while it’s bound to run out at some point the coincidences can’t be ignored. Some years back I was having a hack at Cyclocross riding and was following an ex-Pro mountain biker down a bank in Richmond Park in London, I was way out of my comfort zone and travelling way beyond my skill level too.

Pride is an evil companion and half way down the banking I thought “oh dear”, well perhaps not that polite. Instinctively my leg unclipped and I rode down the side like a true Belgium Cyclocross champ. At the bottom the conversation turned to crashing and breaking things, to which I confessed I’d never broken anything as a cyclist. To which I was given the following advice “You are not a real cyclist until you break your collarbone”.

I avoid crashing, mostly because my job requires me to have both arms and legs in tact to make a living and while I don’t hold back descending, I do take care to position myself and keep a beady eye on other riders so I don’t end up in a pile on the tarmac. In the 2012 Paris-Rouxbaix Challenge we were belting it down the gravel section of the cobbles, just two riders closing a gap to the group ahead, when the rider ahead of me went down like a ton of bricks and from the sound I knew he’d done his collarbone. With my hands on the tops there was no braking possible, so I threw the bike around the side of him switching to the gutter on the other side of the cobbles. Sadly I didn’t manage to close the gap to the group and rode in no-mans-land till a rider from behind joined me.

Forcing myself to sit in one place for more than ten minutes has been a life long struggle and many of my nicknames as a child stemmed from this behaviour: cricket, mosquito, Tiger (from Winnie the Pooh) and it’s not something I’ve grown out of. Couple this with the concentration span of a fruit fly and I wondered how on earth I was going to write a whole book.

For that I have the Curse of the Commentator to thank. Pedalling to work having freshly penned the section on Commuter Safety, this I should add is having safely navigated London’s roads every week of the year for the past 18 years to work by bike, my first unfortunate encounter with the tarmac saw me sat on the side of the road unable to remount my bike in my usual fashion and pedal to work. The irony was not lost on me, I was in the process of writing how you as the cyclist is responsible for your own front wheel, and there I was looking at a fractured hand after being taken out by a fellow cyclist on the way to work.

I was not able to cycle for over 6 weeks, but thankfully this did not put me out of work for more than two weeks at best. Unfortunately this break did not qualify me as a “real cyclist” and the cycling Gods would not allow me to publish a book before I proved myself to be a “real” cyclist.

A few years back one of my clients came in to see me, she’d fractured both her wrists, now I’m one for a good story about injuries, so always delve into the where’s and how. On this occasion the incident took place at a ski resort and while my client was climbing some metal stairs to one of the bars her foot catch and she tripped. Putting both hands out to break her fall resulted in the fractures to here wrists. My instinctive answer was “clearly you weren’t drunk enough”, to which she laughed. It’s obvious if you’re drunk your responses will be delayed and you won’t get your hands up fast enough.

In all the times I’ve crashed I still seem to be holding onto my handlebars, obviously my fruit fly brain must have been elsewhere and not instructing my hands to break my fall. This good fortune was not to last and it was only a few weeks back that my luck on London’s roads ran out. Pedalling home from the station I heard a car come up too close to me, following my own advice I gave them a shoulder check, but they were right on top of me and my racing instinct kicked in and I shifted with their line of travel, unfortunately when I looked up I was going into the back of the a parked car. I saw my arm shoot up in front of me to break my fall and I was stepping off the bike. I collided heavily with the car, dislocating my finger, which I promptly relocated as stuff like that freaks me out a little. Once we’d settled all witness accounts, I walk a little until I feel less shaken, then hopped on the bike a cycled home. I got into bed and tentatively pressed down on the collarbone.

It was at that moment I realised the Commentators Curse was lifted and had become a Real Cyclist. But couldn’t help thinking if I could have warded it off with the Spirits which would have stopped me putting out my arm to break my fall.

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