The fresh wounds on Alex Dowsett's neck – a series of neatly spaced horizontal and vertical lines – make the Movistar man look like he's been attacked by a vampire-inspired designer, rather than slashed by a chainring in a pile-up at the end of stage 1 of Tour de Pologne. As he put it on his Twitter account next to a photo of his neck: "Campag, Shimano or Sram spacing anyone?"
Dowsett was one of several riders that went down in a stage one pile-up around 300 metres from the finish in a fraught bunch sprint, with the series of cuts causing concern because he is a haemophiliac and they came close to several major arteries.
Two days on, he's battling through, the neck injuries left plaster-free to get as much air as possible. He also had cuts and scrapes on the left side of his body and is generally a bit banged-up.
"I was chipping around in the front, like I do a lot of the time, even if we haven't got a sprinter here," Dowsett told Cyclingnews on Monday, "just to see if we could wait and maybe have a bit of an opportunity. It'll happen once in a million times, but unless you're at the front and there, you don't know.
"So I was just waiting around and then, probably just at the point when I knew it wasn't going to happen, something [the crash] happened on the left, I turned right really hard and just got clipped. I don't remember how I ended up on the floor but it was pretty nasty.
"I looked down and saw red, so I knew I was bleeding pretty hard out of somewhere. I panicked because I couldn't see where the blood was coming out of. A paramedic came over and asked me if I was OK and I was like 'I don't know, you tell me.'
"I really panicked. Chainrings are sort of a necessity and they're there, I just got very unlucky in that one ended up that close to my neck. There are some pretty important arteries around that area. I was very lucky it didn't go any further, to be honest."
Given the potential gravity of the situation, Dowsett was put into an ambulance in which he crossed the line. The UCI later confirmed to Cyclingnews that the longstanding regulation that riders must cross the line with their bike to count as finishing has not been valid for nearly three years. In several cases, most notably in the Tour de Suisse, if riders have been caught up in a crash less than three kilometres from the line, and are injured or out for the count, they are counted as finishing the course. If the rider is leading the race, he or she will still receive their prize money for that stage.
At the Tour de Pologne, Dowsett was initially registered as crossing the line five minutes down, but once commissaires determined what happened, a corrected result sheet confirmed that he finished the race in the same time as the main group.
"I was 300 metres from the finish, it's common sense," Dowsett pointed out. "They let me start the next day, a lot of the time in cycling we don't see much common sense, so it's nice that they did this time around."
As he points out, his health was his top priority at the time, "but once I was sorted it out, I did wonder if I was going to be taken back to 300 metres to go across the line. But thanks to the Pologne organisers, common sense prevailed."
Dowsett did not have to go to the hospital either. After the paramedics had cleaned him up, they found that the cuts were quite light, but as Dowsett points out, "at the height of a bunch sprint, your heart rate's really high, up in the 180s, and it [blood] is going to pour out of a paper cut. I've got plenty of skin off, I'm feeling a bit achy and I've got these nice chainring marks on my neck. But fortunately nothing real serious."
Now in his seventh year as a pro, Dowsett recounted that "it's the first crash I've ever had where the haemophiliac question crossed my mind a little bit. I told them straight away, but luckily it was superficial."
A former stage winner in the Tour de Pologne, Dowsett has battled on then, shipping time each day but with his eye on his late summer and autumn objectives, the Binck-Bank Tour (formerly Eneco Tour) and then, probably, the Tour of Britain.
"I'm all right, yesterday [stage 2] was a struggle, I woke up the morning after the stage a kilo and a half heavier because your body retains all that fluid," he said. "But then today [Monday, stage 3] I'm a bit more normal, my weight's come down."
By Tuesday morning and the stage 4 start in the Tour of Pologne, team sources told Cyclingnews that Dowsett was still in some pain, but set to recover fairly quickly. Should the Movistar racer go on thanking his lucky stars for some time once he's over his injuries, that would be more than understandable.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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