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The story at Molecaten Drentse 8 should have been Giorgia Bronzini’s win. The Wiggle Honda rider won an eight-up sprint from a late race breakaway group that formed over the finishing circuit in Dwingeloo. The two strongest teams of the spring season to date, Boels-Dolmans and Rabo Liv, missed out on the break but inexplicably gave up the chase, and the eight leaders stayed away on a day normally designated for the sprinters.
But it wasn’t Bronzini’s name that was most mentioned following the race, it was Loren Rowney. The Australian was involved in a terrible crash in the run-in to the line. With a camera firmly focused on the finish, anyone watching could see Rowney writhing in pain as she lay on the asphalt. Video later emerged of the crash from another angle, and it became clear that a spectator’s outstretched arm contacted Rowney’s handlebars and caused her to go down. There is speculation that the action was intentional.
Ella CyclingTips spoke with Rowney from her hospital bed in Hamburg where she is awaiting surgery on the collarbone she broke. All things considered, Rowney is in good spirits. She’s full of gratitude for the outpouring of support she’s received on Twitter and Facebook. She calls herself lucky to have so many friends who have texted and called and emailed. She’s already talking about a plan to return to racing – potentially as early as late April.
This feature is part of the Ella CyclingTips My Story series, a series conceputalised based on the belief that every rider who lines up to race has a unique story to tell about her day. Rowney’s story is about more than a broken collarbone. It’s about the sensational circumstances surrounding the crash that led to her injury.
Going into Drentse 8, my Velocio-SRAM teammates and I have been working on our lead-out because these early season races are the best place to fine-tune, particularly these 1.2-ranked races. Our team director, Ronny Lauke, likes to gives us a bit of – not free range but he likes us to think and use our own common sense and tactics within the race. That’s what good about 1.2s. It gives us the opportunity to try things.
We were going to line it up for Barbara Guarischi at the finish, and we knew exactly what we needed to do. The plan was to be present at the front of the race, the whole race – top 20 wheels. Everybody.
We were there. It was great. There are a few times you get caught out in these Dutch races, but you just have to constantly fight for position. We rode so well as a unit. I think it’s the best we’ve ridden all year, which is really exciting.
Everything was going well, and when we hit the six finishing laps, that’s when a few attacks started to go. I was well-positioned, and it was my job to make sure I could cover as much as I could.
It was funny because after we finished the two 46km loops, I had felt like I was cramping. I hadn’t eaten enough. Lisa Brennauer, our team captain, had said to me: “You need to take on as much food and drink as you can now and just do whatever you can to help the team for as long as you can.” That’s what I did. It just so happened that when the third attack went in the first finishing circuit, the elastic snapped and eight of us got away.
This race typically finishes in a sprint, so I wasn’t expecting us to stay away – but, in saying that, I knew I had to work it while being conservative at the same time. If it had come back together, I would still have had a job to do for Barbara in the lead-out. I was really mindful of that.
It was holding at 10-20 seconds for a long time. We kept looking back, and we could see the bunch coming – and all of sudden they would disappear. With three laps to go, it blew out to 55 seconds, and that’s when it was like ok – this break is going to stick. This is the winning move. We’re not coming back.
I had to readjust my thinking at that point. How am I going to win this? With every lap, I started feeling better and better. My legs were coming good. I was confident to back myself in the sprint, even with Giorgia there. I was ready to have a crack.
In the last three kilometres, there were a few attacks. I followed everything. We did the final left-hand turn with about 350 metres to go, and I was fifth wheel. I knew I had to go early and long to put the pressure down and force Giorgia out to sprint, in to a drag race. After a long, hard race like that, it’s not a typical sprint.
I was coming up on Giorgia in the sprint on her left, and she could see me. She was trying to hold me as close to the barriers as possible, so I couldn’t come up, which is fair play.
And then suddenly I was flying through the air.
I hit the ground hard. My immediate reaction was anger and confusion. I had no idea how the crash had happened.
When I crashed, I rolled across the finish line. That’s when I felt the shooting pain in my shoulder. I knew straightaway that it was my collarbone. It actually felt like the bone had pierced the skin. I was really worried, and I became a little hysterical because I was so worried and in so much pain. I didn’t know what was happening.
When I had an x-ray last night, it confirmed my initial reaction. The broken bone had almost pierced all the way though. They just have to plate it, so it shouldn’t be too complicated, but it was a nasty, nasty tumble.
And it was nasty tumble that many people saw live and many people have seen since. There was a live stream of just the finish line. It’s so rare that we have live footage of a women’s race, but we did with this one – which meant my dad, among many others, watched it happened.
You can imagine what my phone looked like when I got back to the race hotel. I had all these panicked messages from people. Even my coach Greg Henderson had seen the crash. I think his Paris-Nice stage must have finished earlier. He watched it live.
The immediate aftermath was chaos – and everyone who watched saw the first few minutes of that. I was lying right on the finish and in an incredible amount of pain. Because the bunch was fast-approaching, race officials just grabbed me and rushed me off the course into one of the restaurants. I don’t speak Dutch, so there were language barriers, and it was all really confusing. I kept telling them they needed to take me straight to medical. I need to find my team. It was hectic.
I eventually ended up in the ambulance. The race doctor only needed to touch my collarbone to confirm that it was broken. He wanted to get me to a hospital as soon as possible.
My team decided to take me to BUK Hamburg hospital. They wanted me to have the best care and the best surgeons. Hamburg is one of the best, and they’ve sent many of our athletes here, so that’s why they decided to take me back to the hotel, clean me up, pack up my bags and bring me here.
It wasn’t until we were in the car driving to Hamburg when Ronny got all these text messages say you need to check out the race footage. He looked at it, but I didn’t want to look at it myself. I only looked at it this morning, and I’ve only watched it once. It makes me feel sick.
We finally got to Hamburg at 10:30 last night. The admission process took awhile, and it wasn’t until after midnight that I got into a room. Surgery will be at some point today.
Right now I’m just waiting in my hospital room where they’re slowly but surely beginning to prep me for the operation. I’m quite hungry! I haven’t eaten for 12 hours. I’m tired. I’m lonely because I’m here alone. This isn’t that much fun.
I’m aware that there are a lot of people discussing the crash – and that many people that watched the footage think it was intentional. I can understand how people think that, but looking at the video, no one can say that with certainty.
If it’s intentional? I would be really concerned. I know there are malicious people in the world. Things like this have happened before where spectators have done things intentionally to cause harm. On our national road course, there was a resident that really hated the fact that cyclists were racing in his hometown. He put tacks on the road, which caused punctures and crashes as a result. There are bad people out there who do that sort of thing.
I really hope that this guy didn’t intentionally grab my handlebar and cause me to crash because that’s assault. There’s a lot of debate and discussions and obviously I’m getting tagged in it all, but I’m focused on surgery and healing. If it was intentional, I really hope they find the guy and there are repercussions for what he did.
What can we do? Can we change it? No. The beauty of our sport is the fact that the fans can get so close to us. It’s such an intimate experience. It’s the nature of the beast that spectator interference can happen.
I’ve never done a collarbone, so I don’t know what to expect. I’m hoping to be ready to go by the women’s race at Amgen Tour of California. Who knows? Maybe I can do the last few Dutch races – Borsele and Westhoek at the end of April. We have our American trip after that.
I’m really, really devastated that I’m missing the Ronde van Drenthe World Cup on Saturday because the team rode so well as a unit yesterday. We were all so proud of how we raced. We’re super motivated, and I know the girls are going to do a fantastic job on Saturday. I’m just sad not to be a part of it.
For me in particular – Flanders has been a dream. I’ve been wanting to do this race forever, and I was going to race it – finally! – this year, so missing out is a big blow. In saying that, there are other big races to look forward to this year, and Flanders is there every year, so I’m sure I’ll be back next year. Maybe I’ll even be a contender by then.
Amid all my anger and confusion and disappointment, my spirits have been kept high by an amazing outpouring of support. The sense of community that I always feel within cycling has been taken to a new level. I’ve had everyone message me, particularly everyone in Girona. They’re saying – if you need someone to pick you up from the airport, if you need someone to cook for you, if you need help with anything just let me know.
My coach Greg has been great. He’s already thinking of a plan of how to get me back as soon as possible. He’s sending me goals so I have things to look forward to in the early part of my recovery.
You know, people break bones all the time in cycling. It’s part of the game. I think it’s under the circumstances that it’s a bit more crappy. It’s a horrible thought to think that it could be intentional. Why would someone do that? So people are extra sympathetic.
Whatever the reason, it makes me feel lucky in a way. It’s just amazing that the cycling community has been incredible. I’m just so grateful to have such a fantastic network around me. It makes me happy to be a part of it all.