Some fans, causal observers and even experienced riders may dismiss Gilbert’s crash as just being a product of simply going too fast on too narrow of roads, but this is not case. Speed was not the cause, though speed was a contributor. So, let’s breakdown Philippe Gilbert’s crash on Stage 16 of the 2018 Le Tour France.
Very experienced and one of the best bike handlers in the peloton, Gilbert made a rare mistake, but a big mistake none-the-less. Given the many variables, including; weather, surface conditions and fatigue, mistakes are not excluded by the pro’s or the experienced. In short, Gilbert carried way too much corner entry speed and was simply off the proper line. Meaning he was off the ‘racing‘ or ‘fast‘ line through the corner(s)
Alt video link: Crash on Descent Video
In the video at 1 second in, Gilbert is on a good line for the slight left-hand bend. At 3 seconds in, he appears to be on a good line, about to clip the right hand apex. Though he initiated his entry slightly too early. Followed by the fact that the next left-hander is ‘blind’ on entry and very slightly decreasing in radius. When any corner is preceded by one or a succession of tight radii turns, it is imperative that a rider apex ‘later’ than the geographical apex suggests. Or for the corner in question, (the tight left-hander) it required the rider to square the entry off. In this case, Gilbert did not.
You can see that Gilbert’s exit of the preceding right-hand bend was a bit wide, which put him on a ‘bad’ line for the entry of the approaching left-hander. At 4 seconds in, his fate was already sealed. It’s too late. That is how quickly things unfold at speeds in the 40 to 50 mph range. At second 5 of the clip, notice how Gilbert is entering the offending left bend much too early and too shallow. This is disastrous as it put him way out, off line and subsequently over the wall. It didn’t help that he ‘fixated’ on the wall and impending doom. Though much to his credit, he minimized the impact and crash by scrubbing off some speed with rear wheel steering.
The crash played itself out as a classic ‘wide and early‘ exit due to being too fast in his corner entry speed (it appears that he did not ‘set’ his corner entry speed, using trail or light initial braking) and he made too early of a corner turn-in or entry point- not only in the offending corner, BUT also the previous corner. In this particular case, Gilbert was navigating multiple corners in succession. This is where ‘Line Building’ becomes very crucial. The offending corner posed two challenges; the first was that the corner is ‘blind’ on entry. Meaning a rider is unable to see the exit. The second issue is that corner is slightly decreasing in its radius.
A tight entry line (a result of turning in too early) means that on the exit the bike will be traveling more towards the edge of the road as opposed to being pointed up the tarmac to the next straight or set of bends. A tight entry usually results in a wide exit. Of the three main parts of a corner (entry, apex and exit) the exit is by far the most important. A riders ability to get the bike slowed just enough to match the corner’s radius is the main key, whether this is accomplished through braking or coasting. Think of corner entry as a tool to get the bike slightly slowed, turned, pointed and ready to exit on the proper line.
A ‘later’ apex line will have a rider going deeper into the corner and then turning quicker (utilizing counter steering) to get onto the correct line. This is also referred to as ‘squaring the corner off’ and in the section of road Gilbert was attacking, the layout and subsequent corners required Gilbert to ‘square off’ the entry of the that particular slightly decreasing radii left-hander in order to first, make the corner and second to be on the proper exit line.
Of course it should go without saying that good Vision Techniques are also absolutely critical. How a riders brain perceives the ‘space’ (spatial judgment) at any given time/distance (velocity) and subsequent cerebral information, will dictate a riders input to the bike. Keep in mind that this all happening in fractions of a second.
Another byproduct of not executing proper corner entry is sometimes due to “lazy steering” and this tends to get some riders in trouble. The quickness of steering plays a significant role in corner entry speed and learning to steer (counter steer) the bike quickly and precisely will help a rider to negotiate fast corners in a SAFE and efficient manner.
The Take Away
Being fast or as we like to say, Efficient isn’t about being aggressive at all. It’s about being smooth on the bike. Smooth, consistent body movements, steering inputs and forward vision. The sensation or visceral experiences when cornering fast can be frustrating, concerning and even dangerous. The ‘perception’ of speed is often not a direct link to actual speed. This is why a riders Vision cast as far up the road as possible is so crucial. Of course all of these aspects are tied together by one factor: FOCUS and ATTENTION.
In closing, we are all relieved that Phil Gil was not seriously injured and will fight and hopefully ride in the next Tour! Vive Le Tour!