One minute, Mike Allec was lining up for the sprint at the end of the Santa Barbara Road Race. The next, he was hanging over the side of a bridge, his bike in pieces, in a ravine 30 feet below.
A few days later, video of the crash, taken from a competitor’s onboard camera and posted to YouTube— and the catlike reflexes that may just have saved his life — had gone viral, covered by CNN, Deadpsin, and Inside Edition, and his life had changed in ways he couldn’t have expected.
Allec, a 51-year-old Category 3 Masters racer from Las Vegas, told CyclingTips that he attributed his potentially life-saving maneuver to “good reflexes and luck.”
“I’ve had some crashes before, and kind of bounced up from them,” Allec said. “This one here, I look at it, and I think, ‘I’m happy to walk away from that.’”
Allec, who rides for the Carefast-Storck amateur/elite team, explained that the January 28 Santa Barbara Road Race had changed its traditional start/finish location, due to issues with California Highway Patrol; instead of finishing on a larger, wider road as in years past, the finish was moved to a much smaller back road, Santa Maria Mesa Rd, just past a bridge over a ravine.
Making matters worse, the centerline rule was in effect, even on the backroad, forcing riders to use half the road to sprint for the finish. The net effect was a large group squeezed into one lane, sprinting across a bridge.
“The way the start/finish was, they had a neutral roll out to the main loop, we did four loops, and then came down this spot to the finish,” Allec said. “As we rolled out, we thought it looked kind of tight. We didn’t really notice it was a bridge. I mean, there were barriers, but the way the landscape was, we didn’t think much about it. As we’re doing the race, and it ended up staying together, me and my teammates were saying to each other, ‘man this is going to be kind of hectic coming in.’
“As we turned onto this side road, we knew that right before the bridge, it was going to get hot. If you had any chance to go anywhere, you better be making it then. I saw an opening down the righthand side, so I was moving up, thinking I could get into the top 10, and just as I started my move, I heard the crash happening. I peeked up, I saw it coming from the lefthand side, working its way over. And all of a sudden I saw a person in front of me, to the left of me. So I’m grabbing my brakes, scrubbing speed, and I just figured I’d flip over this guy, land on my back, and hopefully not have any damage.
“As I started to flip over, I don’t know if it was just momentum, because I was headed that direction, or if something bumped me, but I got pushed over to the wall, and as soon as I hit the wall… I knew I had hit the wall, and I knew I was on a bridge, but I didn’t know how far down it was. So I said to myself, ‘man, you’d better grab this wall, because you don’t know if you’re going down one foot or 100 feet.’”
That’s where “good reflexes and luck” converged, saving Allec from serious injury, if not worse.
“There was one little spot on other side of the wall where I was able to stick my toe in, and then a guy came running across the street and he grabbed me and pulled me up. So I got over, and then I looked back down, saw my bike 30 feet down, and that was when I was really freaked out.”
Allec said he emerged largely unscathed, with just a bit of road (bridge) rash. His carbon Storck bike, however, wasn’t so fortunate — the top tube was cracked, and one side of the fork was broken into pieces. Other rider injuries included fractured ribs, punctured lungs, and broken collarbones.
Afterward, Allec said he spoke with a race official who told him there had been miscommunication between the promoter, the UC Santa Barbara Cycling team, and USA Cycling officials, about the correct spot for the start/finish line.
“The official had wanted the finish to be about 300 meters before this bridge,” Allec said. “But that’s how it got set up, and that’s how they ran with it.”
The chief referee, Chris Black, posted an explanation on Facebook, assuming responsibility for the poorly placed finish line.
“The plan was for the finish line to be 250 meters from the final turn. This would have put the finish before the bridge,” he wrote. “The Race Director and promoting club set up the finish line about 800 meters from the turn, which put it across the bridge. When I arrived, everything was set up. I thought about moving the finish line, but there was not sufficient time to accomplish this. So it was ultimately my call, my responsibility. We had almost 500 riders for the day and only one crash on the bridge. I am not trying to make excuses. This is how it played out. The next time I am the Chief Referee for a race on this course, the finish line will be on the other side of the bridge.”
Asked what had gone through his mind in the hours and days that have followed, Allec — who has been racing competitively for five years and is in the process of selling his sports-betting information company — said he’s had time to reconsider the role racing plays in his day-to-day life.
“I looked at it and said, the best outcome of falling would have been horrible, it would have been broken bones — there’s no way I would have bounced up from this,” he said. “And it did dawn on me that there’s a good chance, if I just landed the wrong way, I could have died.
“Of all the things I’ve done on the bike — I’ve been racing for a while, and had crashes — there was never a time where I was shaken like this. And I thought, ‘I’d better rethink this, and think about what’s going on right now.’”
Allec said that, for the time being, he’s going to cease bike racing and focus on his family, and his business interests.
“It’s caused me to take a pause from racing right now, not because I think it’s going to happen again — I’m kind an analytical guy, and I look at that stuff — but because I’ve got a lot of hectic stuff in my life going on right now, and the first thing I thought was ‘man, if I wasn’t here to finish this stuff up, there would be a few dozen people wondering, what was supposed to happen with this, what was this supposed to be? How does this work?’”
“Afterward, I called my wife, and I talked to her — she’s never been a huge of fan of my racing, because of previous crashes — and her first words were ‘please tell me you’re done.’ My business was just acquired, I’m closing the deal, merging the businesses, and neither side is fully on board with what’s going on with the other side, and it would leave my wife hanging, saying, ‘Wait a minute, what is this deal about?’ There are so many loose pieces, I thought I’d better get them wrapped up before I go on racing again. So I said I’m going to retire like Brett Favre retired. I’ve always got the option to come back.”
Asked what his family thought about the video, he said his son “thought it was awesome,” while his two daughters were “pretty freaked out.”