I have now experienced first hand the thrill of Bolton Royal A+E on a Sunday afternoon. Another Sunday, another race, another phone call.
It started off pretty innocuously. A Sunday afternoon crit in Horwich. The weather was better than it had been in a while, and the cyclist was pleased as he'd got an entry on the line. I stayed at home with the kids. The race starts at 3pm. At 3.15 I get a message to call a mobile. There's only ever one possible explanation for that, and so I am told which hospital they're taking my husband to.
He's done it properly this time, decked it at 50kph. I'm told it's not serious, but he's probably broken his collarbone. I ask if he's still swearing, reasoning that if he is it can't be too bad. I can speak to him, he tell's me where he's going. I make a quick call to my sister-in-law and load the kids into the car to drop off with her. 20 minutes later I'm at the reception desk at Accident and Emergency, apologising to two of the receptionists for the fact that the roads in Horwich have been closed since 10am for the bike races. Because obviously both me and my injured husband are somehow responsible.
The irony is that when the race started he had stayed on the front the first few laps, eager to avoid any trouble, noticing the poor surface on the racing line of the corner that would bring him down. The spot that later in the race a Marshall would refer to as 'Death Corner'. Dropping back through the field on the fifth or sixth lap he caught the corner wrong, probably suffered an impact puncture to the front wheel, and came down bringing another with him, who thankfully was able to get back up and carry on racing.
Morphine, an X-ray, a sickbowl. His race number is still pinned to his jersey, and asks me to take his shoes off. He is yellow and the skin of his arms is cold, but slick with sweat. He looks worse than I am expecting. He has fractured his collarbone, taken the skin off his shoulder and knee, damaged his ribs and scraped his knuckles. Bruising and swelling and small marks on him in strange places. His wedding ring has a chip out, I tell him this entitles him to a 5 year discount. We wait around a bit, he is eventually given some hefty painkillers and a sling and we are sent home.
The sad little lycra graveyard at the bottom of the garden has grown. There was no getting round it, the kit he was in had to be removed scissorally. Racing jersey, base layer (not technical enough to get him round this corner, evidently) and bib shorts all had to be cut carefully from the damaged shoulder. The cyclist understandably winces somewhat when I'm cutting hundreds of pounds worth of lycra from his battered body, with blades uncomfortably close to his throat. For those who might be concerned, the socks made it to fight another day...
And the bike. The day after the crash I go to pick it up from the friend who took it home for us that day. Yet again, we've got lucky. The front wheel is completely written off, and there are marks where someone has clearly ridden across the cross tube and seat tube, but she is fine. The bar tape isn't even scuffed - she's made of sturdy stuff is Carly.
So finally, after all this time, he's a proper cyclist. All the races and training in his previous life, as a juvenile and then junior, representing Great Britain at home and abroad, seasons raced in France and Belgium, he never broke his collarbone. We get to talking about the injuries he has suffered in the name of the bike.
Like the training ride when he was 18 and his training partner rode into the back of him, skewering his leg with the quick release lever from his front wheel. This happened on the afternoon of a football derby, so the cyclist was awarded two ambulances, a police car and an attendant helicopter for his troubles, as they were at a bit of a loose end until the pubs kicked out. 6 stitches and an ugly scar to the back of the knee.
Or the Junior Tour of Ireland where he was riding for the four man GB team. Thanks to rolling in to someone else's crash he raced stage 2 with someone else's chainring in the front of his shin. He finished the stage, only to get into the ambulance for stitching up along with 2 other members of the team, who were both there being mopped up for completely unrelated incidents (they still won).
His first ever proper road race, when he moved from the Juvenile to the Junior ranks, crashed on the first lap and got more and more bloodied with every lap. Determined to finish, he refused to climb off and came in so far down on the rest of the field the attending St John's Ambulance crew had given up and gone home by the time he crossed the line for the final time.
And the 'infamous' crash in San Marino, Junior World Champs Road Race, 1995. Doored by a mechanic in a neutral service vehicle as he chased to get back on having had his front wheel taken out in an earlier crash. And the rest is history. Or not.
We took a trip to the fracture clinic today. The cyclist needs an operation to plate his collarbone (X-ay above). He has also fractured 2 of his ribs. The goals he had for the season have had to be shelved, and in a lot of ways that's proving the bitterest pill to swallow.