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May 16, 2007

"Everybody hates for a crash to happen," everybody says after a crash has happened, but it's not completely true.

Within a race, for example, there's no sweeter sound than that of mangled components -- if the sound comes from behind you. The surviving riders feel a small euphoria, for each crash means fewer people trying to take your prize.

Opportunistic riders accelerate at the sound of metal scraping against pavement. Part if it is the survival instinct, to get as far from danger as possible. But it's also a natural point of attack, to drive the stake deeper into the unfortunate.

The unscathed rider doesn't look back but secretly imagines the entire balance of the field writhing in a heap. He counts n riders ahead of him and fancies that the race has been reduced to n+1. Alas, even the worst-sounding crashes typically take out only one or two riders.

And photographers love crashes. We train our long lenses on each sprint, secretly hoping this will be the one that provides the perfect shot. The image of the unfortunate rider floating helplessly away from his bike is a decisive moment that carries as much portent and energy as Henri Cartier-Bresson's classic shot of the man leaping across the puddle. The proper crash photo, in which a hovering rider has not yet hit the ground but is about to, is a piece of kitsch that every cycling photographer dreams of adding to his collection.

In this case the unfortunate rider is Ansgar, one of the area's best sprinters but one who sometimes underestimates his own strength.

Ansgar was one of the first friends I made in racing. I confess that I enjoy crash porn such as this, but I do so only by knowing he walked away unscathed.

According to the time stamps on my photos, it took only 20 seconds from the time he started going down to when he was upright on the curb and beginning to laugh it off. In those 20 seconds his skipped across the ground like a plane ditching into a field. He must have gone 15 meters. If he'd gone 5 meters more, he might have salvaged a top-10 finish, but he ground to a halt just short of the line.

Something I enjoy about this series is the reaction of the spectators. Some recoil in horror. Others stand agape in disbelief. Some don't react at all. A father shields his children.

Speaking of wrecks, my body is a bit of one at the moment. At my team's practice time trial this morning, I had one of my worst times ever, 10 percent slower than this time last year. My head wasn't in it, and neither were my legs. I'm not sure what's going on. Perhaps staying up until 2 a.m. editing race photos wasn't a good idea?

Photo taken: May 13, 2007