Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Contador's Broken Bike: A Surprise? Really?

For the past week, I've been pretty much without internet access -- making it difficult to keep up the blog (or to keep up with much of anything, for that matter). But look at what happened in the great big old bicycle race in France while I was away.

Alberto Contador's Specialized McLaren Tarmac -- a surprise?
So, Contador is out of the race with a broken tibia, and various rumors are circulating the web about his bike, which was apparently broken in half. At least four different stories were put forth by Specialized, first denying that the bike was broken at all, then saying it was broken because it fell off the roof of a car. Then the story was that it was not Contador's bike, but teammate Nicolas Roche's, and that it was run over by a car. Then the story changed again -- it was Contador's bike (the clearly visible number plate made that much clear) that got run over by the car. Never mind that the bike is broken cleanly, not smashed. Then, the last version (which VeloNews calls the "most plausible") was that the bike was on the roof of the team car and got clipped by a bike on the roof of another team car when trying to pass on a very narrow road.
Really cruel irony with the PowerBar ad on the VeloNews article.
There was no actual video footage of Contador's crash, but on the NBCSports TV coverage, one could see a Tinkoff-Saxo bike being picked up after the crash, and it at least appeared to be intact, so it's hard to say exactly what happened. According to the VeloNews story, the initial report on the Tour's race radio, as well as NBC Sports' Steve Porino, who arrived just after the crash, reported that Contador's bike was "in pieces." Porino's report said Contador's "frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car."

While we may never know exactly what happened -- if the bike broke and caused the crash, or if the crash broke the bike, or if the bike was actually broken in some unrelated incident -- I don't have much trouble believing that a carbon fiber bike, built to get every advantage by cutting weight at the expense of durability, might actually break during use. Anybody who's surprised by such a dramatically broken bike is kidding themselves. It doesn't exactly make good ad copy, but it happens all the time.


  1. You don't have to be racing for carbon fiber to let you down:

  2. Crabongate 2014 coverage continues after these messages from your local sponsors...

  3. There's little doubt that Specialized doesn't want the public to know that carbon bikes are vulnerable to impacts they weren't designed to sustain. Not the same as golf clubs or fishing rods because a broken bike is a serious safety issue. I can imagine the nanny organizations getting involved, leading to massive recalls or outright banning of carbon bikes.

  4. For what it's worth:

    If bike frames were steel, would have snapped the car roof rack

  5. "Just Riding Along " stories have always been told .

  6. Someone I know joked that you should ride carbon if:

    a. you can replace it every year
    b. you can own more than one
    c. someone else is paying.

  7. @ofoab: Just because JRA stories always get told doesn't mean they're always lies.

    Not that that alters any of your conclusions, but in this case it's clear from many photos and the TV feed that the broken bike is not the bike Contador was riding when he crashed. He crashed on one of the new McLaren-Specialized bikes with its distinctive orange and black color scheme. The broken bike in the Tinkoff-Saxo livery is his backup bike. It's got his number on it because it's more important to get one's team leader his backup bike than a domestique's, and the number plate makes identifying it easy in an instant. Note also the relative cleanliness of the bike; not what you would expect from a bike that had been ridden through the rain for hours.
    So it's rather likely that the JRA "falling off the roof rack" story is true.

    1. I agree that some of the evidence that's been pieced together since the incident does indeed support the story that the bike was broken in some non-riding-related accident -- but I'm going to correct one minor point here. The bike Contador was riding was not painted orange and black -- it was the same color scheme as the other Tinkoff-Saxo bikes.