Anyone who has spent much time driving the streets of Gatineau knows that the ever-increasing number of roundabouts can be treacherous to navigate at the best of times.
Canada’s two-sport and two-season Olympics darling Clara Hughes will certainly be wary of them from now on.
The six-time Olympics medallist continued her cycling comeback in spectacular fashion Thursday by overcoming a seemingly disastrous fall while circling a roundabout at the midway point of the 17.34-kilometre race, recovering quickly enough to win the time trial event by an amazing margin of almost 11 seconds.
With 35 other riders, Hughes was competing in the second annual Chrono Gatineau Grand Prix of Cycling, the most prestigious race on the women’s circuit to take place in Canada this year.
No sooner had course announcer Randy Ferguson told an excited crowd that Hughes had just turned in the best split time of the day — 11 minutes, 54 seconds — when the cyclist crashed to the ground and crowd surrounding the roundabout let out a collective gasp. It was so loud that even Hughes said later she heard it as she fell hard to the asphalt.
The fall cost Hughes seven seconds, but she bounced up quickly and jumped back on her bike as one of her mechanics leaped from the car trailing her and gave her a big push that sent her flying back down Boulevard des Allumettieres.
Even with the fall, she finished the second half of the course in a remarkable 11 minutes, 55 seconds to finish first overall with a total time of 23:49.17 and top a world-class field of cyclists.
Hughes, while not seriously injured, admitted she knew she was in trouble coming into the roundabout, which sent the riders back to complete a second trip around the 8.67-kilometre course.
She conceded she took the corner too fast: “I thought the roundabout was wider. I knew going into the turn I was going down and it was all my fault. It was all me. I was going too fast.
“I heard everyone going, ‘Ahhhhhhh’ … There was about 20 seconds where I’m telling myself, ‘Ouch, that really hurt,’ and then I put it right out of my mind. I looked and saw the rider in front of me and thought, ‘I gotta catch her.’”
Laughing, she said her fall should be considered a good lesson in “how not to do a roundabout.” It was also a lesson, she said, for spectators in how to fall.
“It was s-o-o-o-o-o embarrassing that I had to do it at the only point in the course with spectators. But I always think that no matter if I fall on my face, I am going to get back up and go. Welcome back to cycling, I guess.”
Ganna Solovey of Ukraine was second and American and world champion Amber Neben finished third.
The victory is another step in Hughes’ road back to the Olympics next year in London. Those Games will be her sixth overall, having already participated in two Summer Olympics in cycling and three Winter Games in speedskating.
Hughes, formerly of Winnipeg and now living in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, was happy with all aspects of her ride on Thursday — save the tumble, of course.
“It felt incredible,” she said. “It was a very interesting course and a very good experience for me. I’m feeling very good right now … well maybe a little sore.
“But I felt really strong and I love time trials. This is a good way to gauge where I am up against some of the best.”
The competition continues Saturday with the international women’s (11 a.m.) and men’s (3 p.m.). The races all start and end on Boulevard des Allumettieres near Rue Labelle in Gatineau. The event concludes Sunday with a bike show and family races.
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