There's an old saying about motorcycle riders that claims you shouldn't ask if you'll crash, but when you'll crash. The same can be said about cycling's sprinters, as Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare) found out again in the final metres of Saturday's bunch kick near the end of the Tour of Alberta's second stage.
As the sprinters bore down on the finish line in Spruce Grove, things suddenly went sideways for McCabe – literally – as he was in good position but fell hard on his right shoulder while the rest of the peloton flew by.
Cannondale-Drapac's Wouter Wippert eventually won the stage, surging past Holowesko-Citadel's John Murphy at the line. While the top three, including Ryan MacAnally in third, were on the podium receiving accolades and bouquets, McCabe was in the medical tent getting checked out and bandaged up.
When he emerged from the tent wrapped in gauze, he told Cyclingnews there was only one rider to blame – himself.
"I was in great position and I felt good," McCabe said. "I was a little too patient and got boxed in with 300 metres to go. I tried to step out and there were two Aevolo kids, and I just touched a wheel in front. I think my spacial awareness was just off a little bit and I clipped a wheel and went down at, who knows, 55-plus K and hour. It happens.
"At least I didn't go into the barriers,” he continued. “It's all superficial and banged up. I'll live another day."
McCabe had bandages on his right elbow and leg, but he avoided serious injury and will almost certainly be back on the start line Sunday for stage 3, which, on paper at least, looks like another opportunity for the sprinters.
The finish in Spruce Grove was not especially technical, but there was a head wind and cross wind in the closing kilometres and a slight bend to the left at the line. Murphy jumped from a long way out and went up the center of the road, while Wippert clung to the barriers on the left-hand side and waited to make his move.
"We spoke about it already before the race with the team," Wippert said of his inside line. "We were supposed to be on the left because of the wind, so we worked it out pretty well.
"I think at the line it was bloc headwind, so that made it pretty hard," the Cannondale rider said. "It wasn't uphill, but it wasn't flat flat, so that made it pretty hard to. In the last 100, 150 metres there was a lot of wind."
McCabe said he was on Wippert's wheel, but he was a little too patient before making his jump, which led to him getting boxed in.
"I fought for it pretty hard and felt good," McCabe said. "His last rider dropped him off at 300, which seemed a bit early. That's when Wippert opened it up, and I was just waiting.
"It was a crosswind, and for some reason they stayed to the left of the barriers instead of staying to the right," McCabe said, disagreeing with Wippert's claim that there was a bloc headwind in the finishing straight. "I was expecting them to stay right more, but they went all the way left, and then Murphy and the Aevolo kids jumped at 300 metres as well, all the way on the right side and then moved over to Wippert."
McCabe said he tried to punch out of his hole between 250 and 150 metres to go, because at the moment he lacks the pure speed, but his snap is good.
"I was trying to just play my cards right, and it didn't work out," he said, adding that Wippert played his cards well. "He had the barriers to stay along with, and he used that as protection. Everyone was up on the left side of the barriers, and I just got boxed in.
"I'm alright," he said. "The head's alright, which is good. I have some strong bones, so I got lucky there."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.