The helicopter spotted him first, picking out a small ball of bright blue on the grass verge from a thousand feet, like some sort of giant magic mushroom.
On closer inspection it wasn’t a ball shape, it was a fetal one, and the sun was glistening on the spokes of a racing bike about ten feet away, halfway into a hedge, and on the other side of a crash barrier.
Astana rider Michael Valgren had somehow found his way into a storm drain and lost his balance, sliding on his face for about 15 yards before what can only have been the friction from his stubble finally brought him to a stop (his bike carried on for a bit). You can leave a lot of face on the road over that kind of distance, which no one knew more at this point than Valgren.
The doctor from the medical car arrived first, followed by a mechanic from the Astana car. The former carried a bag and raced to examine the still prone Valgren. The latter, hired it seems for his bulletproof optimism, appeared carrying a spare front wheel.
The doctor looked Valgren in the face, what was left of it, and then held up three fingers to a colleague, presumably relaying how many teeth Valgren had left.
Slowly, Valgren removed his helmet; the bright blond of his hair contrasting starkly with the bright red of his bruised and bloodied face. He should have been crying his eyes out, but at this stage it wasn’t clear whether his eyes were still in.
TV showed the crash again, between pictures of Valgren at the side of the road, looking spaced out and trying to remember his first name.
His race was over, not that he would know it for a while, or that he’d even started it, or indeed what a race was.
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