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Getting back

It’s over two weeks since I was hit by a speeding car in Nice, France. My back still hurts and my head is still full of scary thoughts. However, yesterday I finally ventured onto the roads again, riding a short loop on the quiet twisting lanes on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

As cars came towards me and from the rear, I would look around to directly focus on the driver, and place my bike into the prominent position on the road, to ensure that they would see me. On the descents where I would usually let the bike go, I feathered the brakes to scrub the speed; but I returned home safely and now have a better idea where the back is injured.

I guess it’s time then to analyse the accident and how I fell.

I’d ridden most of the 110km of the Paris Nice Challenge, over the beautiful hills and cols, sweeping down the endless winding roads and into Nice on the Cote D’Azure. Heading towards the Yacht Marina with other riders, a junction of roads both left and right came up. Slowing to ensure the right hand road was clear, I then went slowly across.

However, as I was doing so, a gold coloured people carrier seemed to accelerate in order to try to find a gap between riders; but in truth there was no gap, and as I looked at this accelerating vehicle, I knew that I couldn’t avoid being hit by it. I saw the fast speed, and my mind instinctively went into protection mode. Thankfully I was once a climber, so have quick thinking instincts in serious situations and quick reactions, but knew that one of three things was going to happen: I would either be killed, not an option; I would either be paralysed, I have no say in this; it’s going to bloody well hurt lots! The final option was the clear winner for me, so I had to try to achieve this as an outcome.

Everything was now moving in slow motion, like a video player. As the high side of the people carrier came towards me, and the bike was braking to slow - not fiercely, as I didn’t want to be thrown over the bars and into the path of the vehicle - I decided to take myself off to the side, and so forced a fall to my right, being thrown with the impact into the air.

I knew that I needed to stop my head from hitting the ground, so brought it forward, at the same time as my legs were being thrown around like a rag doll, and I went into a foetal position and my knees hit my face, smashing my sunglasses into several pieces I would later learn. I landed on my back, with my head and legs upwards and then just remember lying there, in the centre of the road, in extreme pain and shock, surrounded by very helpful locals, obviously concerned for me.

My back was hurting like bloody hell, but I could feel it, and I could feel my legs and arms, so that was good. But I still didn’t know how badly I’d hurt my back, and the pain was about level 8 or 9. ‘Fuck me’ was the first thought. Please accept my apologies for swearing, but ‘fuck me!’ I’d seemingly got away with the third option, and thought about trying to sit upright as adrenaline kicked in, but people were stopping me and making sure I lay still. An ambulance was already on its way by all accounts. I cannot thank these people enough, and am actually in tears as I write about it and their care.

Their simple actions not only looked after my injuries, but also after my head after such a shock. They were amazingly caring and I’ll never forget it, as I lay on the road thinking ‘how do I tell Clare this one!’

Due to the cycling event in Nice and preparation for the race weekend, the ambulance seemed to take an age, but eventually came and the paramedics and doctor examined me. I wanted to sit upright, so they helped me, and eventually I was helped to stand - wow, result! You cannot understand how good a feeling that was. Despite their advice to attend hospital, I was standing and therefore wanted to finish the ride - or rather the adrenaline fuelled me did.

I was helped to the bike, and saw that the wheels were okay, but the bars had been knocked out in the impact. I straightened the bars and was passed several pieces of formerly very nice Rudy Project sunglasses, now in fragments - a small price to pay. The Corsican driver was nearby, and clearly didn’t give a fuck how I was, only caring about his car, which in truth I didn’t give a fuck about then or now. He’d recklessly gone for a gap that didn’t exist and nearly killed me, so he could go and swivel all the way back to Corsica.

I was helped onto the bike, slowly turned the cranks and felt the shooting pains and throbbing agony in my back, but it was only a couple of km along the coast, so off I went cautiously.

Crossing the finish line wasn’t the smiling affair I’d planned, as I was hurting, really hurting; but after a short rest I was joined by the ever smiling face of my good friend Geoffroy Lequatre, who’d finished some time before (3 Tour de France rides in his former pro legs), and I could not help but smile. We hugged and he helped me back to the car, where we both joked about the crash, and about the fantastic route of the ride, and how I’d given my name to the Corsican as #### , a pro cycling friend that Geoff and I knew, so we both laughed even more, imagining the Corsican trying to contact him, and his response saying ‘WTF, I was riding Paris Nice elsewhere!’ At this point I should add that I gave my real name, but the reckless speeding Corsican can still swivel.

I was so very happy just to have avoided option one, I was still alive and had the medal to prove it. It had been a beautiful ride, amongst wonderful hills and epic scenery, and I was here with my friend smiling, even if in pain.

As dinner was being prepared by Petra I showered and then called Clare. She was simply happy that I was okay, but it was definitely emotional for me. The boys apparently joked a little, as you’d expect, but have been awesome since I arrived home. Friends around the world have been truly lovely, and I’m humbled by their concern.

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to get back onto the bike; both due to the injuries and the mental scars of seeing a car coming at me at such speed. As a cyclist and former police officer, I know the outcome could have been far worse. I’ll be back in Nice cycling soon hopefully, sharing time with Geoff and Petra, who are truly amazing friends. And here at home I’ll enjoy every sunrise, and look every day as being very special.

I’ve had a wake up call I guess, and have been reminded what counts in life: my family, my friends, and being there when others need you - being there, as those wonderful people in Nice were for me, as I lay on the road, frightened and scared.

All images courtesy of Geoffroy Lequatre,