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13 July 2005

Local Cycling Tragedy

There's a whole bunch of cycling-related news to cover this morning, but first things first. If you're in the Portland area, you've no doubt caught glimpses in the news over the past few months of the spate of local cycling-related deaths. I don't remember how many there have been, only that it seemed like it was more than usual (whatever "usual" is in these circumstances). The incidents to date were all involving cyclists and automobiles. Last night another local cyclist died, but this one's a bit more spooky (if you're a cyclist) - he died in a bike race.

KGW.com is reporting that Charles Christensen died in the final sprint at the weekly race at Portland International Raceway. I think you need a subscription to get to the story, so I'm pasting it here:

A cyclist died Tuesday night when he crashed near the finish line during a road race at Portland International Raceway, authorities said.

Charles Christensen, 29, of Milwaukie, was 300 yards from finishing the 40-mile race when he lost control of his bike, said Lt. Allen Oswalt of the Portland Fire and Rescue Bureau. The cyclist slammed headfirst into a steel post filled with concrete. "He was wearing a helmet, but it didn't do much at 30 mph," Oswalt said. Oswalt said Christensen suffered "huge head trauma" and died at the scene.

Race organizer Jeff Mitchem said the cyclist, who had several years of racing experience, was in a pack sprinting toward the finish line when he tried to pass on a straightaway and veered off course.

Police investigated the crash late into the night at Portland International Raceway. "As soon as he hit it, the sound was such that we knew it was serious," said Mitchem, who also participated in the race sanctioned by the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association.

Portland International Raceway is designed for auto racing and the cyclist hit a support for a fence that keeps cars from the crowd, Mitchem said.

Mitchem said medical personnel treated Christensen within seconds, but there was no chance to save him. Mitchem described the track as "the safest venue" to ride a bike, and said he couldn't remember a racer there ever suffering more than a broken collarbone.

Mike Murray, a board member of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, said Tuesday's cycling fatality was Oregon's first since the early 1980s, when a car struck a cyclist.

Chris often races in those events, though he wasn't there last night. His thoughts: "I know exactly how it happened. We alternate the direction of the race around the track week to week. When the race goes opposite to the direction of the auto races, there is a spot where the safety barrier opens up (across from the Festival Curves) to allow emergency vehicles to have access to the track. The racer slammed into the end of that wall. I’ve sprinted past that spot on the track and gotten shivers in the past hoping that everyone holds their line."

What's chilling for me is that the helmet is the only piece of safety equipment bike racers wear. That's it. And this kid's helmet wasn't able to do a goddamned thing for him. Very sad news, indeed, and our hearts go out to the cyclist's family and friends.

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