By Gerard Knapp
Crashing, as any track cyclist will quickly tell you, is part-and-parcel of the sport. Some but fortunately few are very serious, while most are just plain embarrassing and only ruinous to a rider's chances of winning that event.
However, for a few young riders in the U19 Men's Madison in the Australian Track Cycling Championships, they managed to pull off the double – maximum embarrassment and a race win.
The spot where three riders – all from the same State, and two from the same team – came down was right under the nose of their highly experienced and respected coach, NSW Institute of Sport's head cycling coach, Gary Sutton.
"Mate, I was devastated when they went down," a relieved Sutton told Cyclingnews immediately after the event. "I was just more worried they wouldn't get back up."
With 36 laps left in the 120-lap, 20km Madison, rival NSW riders Alex Carver and Luke Davison came together on the first bend as Davison was making a change with his team-mate Aaron Donnelly.
"Alex and 'Davo' hooked handlebars, then I got tangled up with them and went down, too", explained Donnelly.
At the time, Davison and Donnelly were leading the Madison, while Carver was in second place with his team-mate Scott Law. The heavy clash of bodies and bikes sent the three riders sprawling across and down the embankment. One-by-one they got to the their feet with the help of handlers, and apart from some burns and grazes from the track that ripped their skinsuits, they were OK, and importantly, their bikes were not damaged.
With the adrenaline pumping, the leading team only missed a couple of laps – they are allowed to use up to five – as Donnelly re-mounted and got back into the fray, while Carver stayed attentive at the front of the race.
With the leaders absent, the rest of the field saw an opportunity and attacked, and the Western Australian team of Michael Frieberg and Luke Durbridge put in some hard turns off the front that split the field. Within another lap, both Davison and Carver had re-joined the fray and amazingly, they chased down the WA riders' attack and then proceeded to work together to actually lap the field, along with a team from the ACT.
The crash had impeded the progress of other teams and they never really got back on, but the riders who crashed seemed to be almost stronger and they continued to attack and counter-attack, as well as contesting all the sprints.
After the eventful 120-lap event, Davison and Donnelly won convincingly with 28 points, ahead of Carver and Law on 17, while the ACT team of M Meisel-Dennis and Thomas Palmer secured the bronze with 10 points.
"They showed great character to do that," said Sutton, a proud and relieved coach. "They've trained here (Dunc Gray Velodrome) for four months and they're all great mates."
As the riders filed back to their camp in the infield, it was hard to tell if they were triumphant or embarrassed. Sutton warmly congratulated each rider, even if he did make mention of showing scant disregard for their "new $200 skinsuits".
As the quartet warmed down on their trainers the comments inevitably started to flow, until one used the term "bastard" and they quickly learned – again – who was the boss.
"Hey! Who swore then? That's enough of that," Sutton quickly said. It would appear that his highly successful role as the coach and manager of Australia's national junior track cycling team is not in jeopardy.