Thrills and Spills?

Freewheeling Opinion Column by The Girl With The Marco Pantani Tattoo

9th July 2017

Today I watched in absolute horror as Richie Porte rode off the road, saved himself from cycling off into a ravine, before careering into the path of fellow riders, hitting a brick wall, and then being run over by Dan Martin.  I’m pretty sure it was the worst crash I’ve witnessed live on TV.  I was too young to have seen Fabio Casartelli’s terrible crash on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet in the 1995 Tour de France, and unable to watch the live coverage of the Giro in 2011 when Wouter Weylandt came down during Stage 3.

What I do know about Wouter Weylandt’s crash was the absolute stomach-churning horror as the cameras stayed on him, when it was plainly obvious that something beyond terrible had happened. David Millar writes in his second book, The Racer, about the telephone call he received from his wife immediately after he finished Stage 3 of the Giro, on a ride which took him into the race lead. Having been on the road chasing the dream of wearing the pink jersey, Millar was not aware of what had happened when he took the call. “There was a missed call from Nicole. I called back immediately. She was crying when she answered ‘why are they showing it on TV? They can’t do that….there was blood everywhere and he wasn’t moving’. I’d rarely heard Nicole so upset. ‘They wouldn’t stop filming it. Why would they do that? I don’t understand why they’d do that. What about his girlfriend?’” .

Those words flashed through my mind as I watched today’s horror crash. The camera stayed on Richie as he lay on the road, lingering far too long. What if his family are watching? At that point – and even to some extent now, as I write several hours later – nobody had any idea if he was okay. I couldn’t tell if he was conscious, or if he was moving. I couldn’t watch any more. If I felt like that, how must his family feel? The crash was replayed and replayed – real time speed, slow motion….how many times did we need to see it? Each replay made the accident seem more hideous than the last. I had to look away.

Then there were shots of the Tour’s medical officer attending to Richie, a moment that was incredibly intimate and therefore rather disturbing to watch. Richie having a neck brace fitted, Richie being lifted into the back of an ambulance by a team of paramedics. You realise later that someone was standing there, camera in hand, letting it roll to capture images that will be beamed across the globe. Does viewing the scene through a lens make you feel apart from the situation, detached from reality? Does it make the whole thing seem like some crazy film or video game with HD graphics? Well I watched it at a true distance, through a screen, and I didn’t feel at all detached or apart from what was happening. I just felt sick.

Crashes were numerous today, on Stage 9 of the 2017 Tour de France. Are incidents such as that involving Richie Porte really ‘entertainment’? Cav’s crash earlier in the race was also too painful to watch, and is still playing out over and over again in various vine loops and GIFs on social media. At what point do the viewers and fans say ‘enough is enough’? Like David Millar’s wife Nicole pointed out, these racers have family members and friends watching. Is it right that Wouter Weylandt’s Mum, Dad, and friends had to watch, helpless, as their son and best mate lay on the road, clearly in a terrible situation?Where is the line drawn between entertainment and real life in the world of live sport?

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