Mark Renshaw wasn't close enough to see the neutralised zone crash that ended his Dimension Data teammate Mark Cavendish's Abu Dhabi Tour before it had even begun, but the cause of the crash quickly travelled by induction through the peloton and proved to be accurate.
Cavendish was one of five to crash when the peloton slowed behind the lead car on stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour, and although he remounted and re-joined the peloton, he was forced to abandon with a suspected concussion and whiplash.
"I didn't see it happen, but there was word going around that a lot of the cars have the automatic braking system, and if they don't disengage that, then as soon as a bike rider comes close, it brakes," Renshaw told reporters who had congregated by the Dimension Data team cars after stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
That theory was confirmed shortly afterwards by RCS Sport race director Stefano Allocchio, who was a passenger in the Mercedes that led the bunch through the neutralised zone. When the riders behind the car moved close enough to trigger the sensor, the car's brakes were automatically applied.
While the riders on either side of the slowing lead car simply rode past it, those directly behind it were forced to suddenly brake, and Cavendish was unable to avoid touching the rear wheel of Leonardo Basso (Team Sky) and fell heavily.
"The car braked by itself," Allocchio explained. "Unfortunately, these are things that happen. This evening, we'll have a technician deactivate it on the all the cars because we don't want to risk it happening again."
That will be of scant consolation to Cavendish at this juncture, though Dimension Data directeur sportif Roger Hammond was more concerned with the well being of his rider than attributing blame for the incident.
"The most important thing was to get him picked up off the road and assess the situation," Hammond told reporters at the finish. "My discussion with Mark was with the doctors - where he was injured, where he was hurt and what we were going to do about it. How it happened didn't really interest us at the time. The milk's already spilt."
A delegation from the race organisation was planning to visit Cavendish on Wednesday evening, either in hospital or at the hotel, to express their regret at the Abu Dhabi Tour ambassador being forced out of the race in such circumstances.
Concussion and whiplash
The initial report from the Dimension Data team suggested that Cavendish had landed on the same shoulder he broke when he crashed out of the 2017 Tour de France, but it later emerged that he had abandoned the race due to a concussion and whiplash.
"I just spoke to him for a second when he came back to the bunch and I asked, 'Are you ok?' and he said 'No, I've got a pretty sore head,' and that's when he went straight back to the car," Renshaw said. "I think he went back because of his head and neck, because his neck kind of fell on somebody's back wheel."
Once Cavendish dropped back to consult with Hammond and the medical staff, it was quickly apparent that it would have been unwise in the extreme to continue in the race with such injuries.
"The most important thing is that Cavendish got the care that he needed, so we were at the side of the road trying to work out doctors and cars, and get him to hospital as quickly as possible to get checked up for the next races," Hammond said.
"They're always the worst crashes, those slow ones. You're not expecting them and you hit the ground pretty hard, whereas in high-speed crashes you tend to slide, as every bike rider knows."
While Hammond was addressing reporters beyond the finish line in Madinat Zayed, Dimension Data issued a press release detailing Cavendish's injuries, with team doctor Adrian Rotunno confirming that the rider had not sustained a serious neck injury in the crash. "He currently has some concussive symptoms and neck pain, but is otherwise stable," Rotunno said. "We will monitor Mark's condition closely going forward."
It is still unclear whether Cavendish's participation in Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo will be affected by the injuries he sustained in Abu Dhabi. He began his campaign with a stage win at the Dubai Tour and raced last week's Tour of Oman as part of an early-season block of racing in the Middle East.
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