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Eighty bicycle racers involved in crash near Silver City during Tour of the Gila

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Eighty riders – more than half of those in the men’s professional division racing in the multi-stage Tour of the Gila – were involved in a crash Wednesday that resulted in dozens of injuries and at least one man being airlifted to a Tucson hospital.

Participants said it was unlike any crash they’d ever witnessed.

Jack Brennan, the race’s director, said about 150 riders comprising the men’s professional division set off from Silver City just after 9 a.m. Wednesday to begin the tour’s first 90-mile leg to Mogollon.

The crash occurred on U.S. 180 around noon within 20 miles of the finish line, according to one of the few cyclists who witnessed the crash without getting pulled into it.

Brennan said the race’s doctor reported that about 25 riders were treated at a Silver City emergency room with injuries including broken bones and road rash.

Cyclist Michael Dziedzic, participating in his fourth Tour of the Gila, said a tightly packed group of cyclists was heading at least 45 mph downhill when a crosswind made the pack swerve. Wind gusts had complicated the race for riders throughout the entire first leg, he said.

“Next thing you know, it’s just the sound of broken wheels and frames. All the mechanics were screaming for medics. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Dziedzic said he had a “front-row seat” to the crash and that he personally witnessed broken bones, road rash and one man who had a deep gash across his neck. He said that a few dozen riders who were ahead of the crash continued the race uninterrupted.

Cyclists and their team leaders took to Twitter to update riders’ conditions, and the Twitter account for Silber Pro Cycling reported that two of its cyclists being treated at a Tucson hospital were “conscious and coherent” after the crash.

Dziedzic said the gust of wind and perhaps one rider’s momentary lack of attention could have resulted in the “carnage.” All it took, he said, was a momentary contact between two bicycles for the crash to occur and pull in nearby cyclists.

“All it takes would be for one guy to not pay attention for, like, two seconds,” he said. “It was just a sight I haven’t seen before.”

Brennan, the race’s director for the past 14 years, said he’s heard from professional cyclists who said the crash was unlike anything they’d seen.

He said the race’s technical director will now determine what to do for the cyclists forced to stop or hang back as the injured were treated.

This is the 28th year that the five-day event has been held in the area around Silver City. Sponsored by the bicycle component maker SRAM, it typically attracts top-level U.S. and international racers, according to the event website.

Former household-name bike racer Lance Armstrong participated in the event in 2009 and 2010.

The website showed there were 381 riders registered this year.

Strong winds led to several minor crashes during the 2010 Tour of the Gila event but no riders were hospitalized, according to a story in the Silver City Sun-News.

Journal staff writer Rosalie Rayburn contributed to this report.