A freak accident knocked Chris Baldwin out of the USA Pro Challenge Thursday, leaving his Bissell Pro Cycling team to continue with just five riders after Jeremy Vennell and Mike Torckler had to abandon following crashes earlier in the week.
Bissell director Omer Kem told Cyclingnews that Baldwin was taken to a local hospital with severe injuries to his left hand but was released to his wife Kimberly, who is driving a VIP care at the race, later that night. Baldwin spent the night with his wife at her hotel.
Baldwin was competing in stage 4 from Steamboat Springs to Beaver Creek when his left hand slipped off the handlebars and into his front wheel. The veteran rider was able to extricate his hand from the wheel without going down, but the gruesome nature of the injuries immediately forced him off the road.
Kem said that when the Bissell team car got to Baldwin, the rider was standing next to the road with both hands held tightly against his torso.
"It kind of looked like he had the wind knocked out of him because his hands were stuck up against his stomach and his bike was laid down on the side of the road," Kem said. "So I got to him and the mechanic goes to the bike and the bike is covered in blood. I looked at [Baldwin] and he is just shaking, and he's trying to get his glove off his hand. But he couldn't get his glove off because his finger was at a 90-degree angle and the other one had all the skin torn off. So I got him to lay down, and at that point I got on the radio and said, 'We need medical, we need medical,' two or three times."
Fortunately, the Champion System car was not far behind and had the team doctor aboard. Race medical was also quickly on the scene, followed by an ambulance that transported Baldwin to the Vail hospital.
Kem said Baldwin passed out from shock as soon as they got him to lay down.
"At that point he just passed out," Kem said. "As soon as we got him down he passed out from the shock. But it's a testament to how good a bike racer is that he got his hand out and stopped without crashing."
Baldwin was on great form at the race, sitting 14th overall after three stages, just 41 seconds off the race lead. Now he likely faces a long recovery to repair the damage to his hand.
"It's going to be a long recovery process," Kem said. "They may have to put a pin in the finger that was bent, and then they have to put the other one together with maybe some skin grafts. So it will be a process."
With just five riders left in the race, Bissell will now focus on moving Carter Jones into the top 10 overall. With three stages remaining, Jones is 14th overall, 2:07 off the pace of race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
"So that's our goal now," Kem said "We'll do everything to make that happen in the next couple of days."
Today, riders face the 16.1km uphill Vail time trial, followed by the stage from Loveland to Fort Collins on Saturday. Kem said he expects Garmin-Sharp to try and light things up on the penultimate stage with hopes of lifting GC contender Tom Danielson onto the podium's top step when the race ends Sunday in Denver.