That’s One Lucky Viking

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Depending on how you look at it, Thor Hushovd is either the luckiest man in cycling or he’s cursed. Ever since powering his way into the yellow jersey in Saturday’s prologue time trial, he’s been dancing with disaster. But that’s the life of a field sprinter, and at the end of Stage 2 he did just enough to retake the yellow jersey he lost to George Hincapie yesterday afternoon.

The sturdy Norwegian’s troubles began when he swung to the right of World Champion Tom Boonen during the finishing sprint at the end of Stage 1. Something (consensus seems to be that it was a promotional sign from PMU, the sponsor of the green-jersey competition) sliced a five-centimeter gash in his right arm. Somewhat distracted by the pain and sudden appearance of blood, he backed off just a bit and finished ninth in the stage. Hincapie vaulted into the race lead due to the two bonus seconds he earned in an intermediate sprint, and Hushovd went to the hospital to get stitches.

In Stage 2 earlier today, Hushovd was again making a charge toward the finish line, this time sporting a bright white bandage on his injured arm. Just meters from the line, his left foot popped free from his pedal and what looked like a possible stage win ended up as a third-place finish.

But if it sounds like he’s had a disastrous two days, consider what could have happened compared to what actually did. Either incident could have very easily led to a crash, and not the simple slide-into-the-grass kind, but the flip-over-the-bars-at-40-mph-and-get-run-over-by-20-guys kind. Instead, Hushovd followed his instincts and did the safest thing possible—he relaxed, stopped pedaling, and held his line. Any other action would have increased the chances that he would have either crashed by himself or collided with another rider and caused an even bigger pileup.

If there’s a lesson other cyclists can learn from Hushovd’s experiences over the past two stages, it’s that relaxing and holding your line give you the best chance of surviving a hairy situation on a bicycle. If you tense up, it’s much harder to control your bike and you’re more likely to hit the deck. And in a pack of riders, sudden movements, like swerving or panicking to get your foot clipped back into your pedal, just make matters worse. When you have a problem, the riders around you have to make a split-second decision about where to go in order to avoid hitting you. If you hold your line, there’s a better chance they’ll get around you safely and no one will go down.

As for Hushovd, I’d say he’s the luckiest man in cycling right now. And as the saying goes, “All’s well that ends well.” He’s wearing the yellow jersey as the leader of the Tour de France, and besides a bandaged arm and some wounded pride, he’s no worse for wear. For his sake, let’s hope he can reach the finish line tomorrow without any more close calls.

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