I've heard people say, "There are two kinds of cyclists: the ones who have crashed, and the ones who will crash." People say the same about a lot of groups of people: motorcyclists, rock climbers, skiers. I guess it's a harsh way of saying everyone has accidents; and, life is dangerous. I've been cycling pretty seriously for about 4 years, and have not crashed. [KNOCK ON ALL THE WOOD.] (UPDATE: I crashed riding in Hawaii...sigh...) But, I do have a lot of cyclist friends who have crashed: people who know what they're doing and have been doing it well for a long time. So, I tend to err on the side of caution. I was also a cyclist in New York City, which gave me my share of (daily) close calls on the bike. So maybe I've had some luck on my side.
Yesterday afternoon I was only a few miles into an intense climbing ride, when I an ambulance flew by me, sirens blazing. And another mile up, the scene. A short line of cars in both directions, and a small group gathered around a downed cyclist. There was blood. He was in bad shape. I inched to the front of the line and asked a medic what he thought. "I think he's going to make it." I'm still unclear on whether the man was struck by a car, or just lost control. He was definitely descending, and likely going pretty fast.
A good friend of mine, who raced bikes for a long time, and has ridden more miles than I can really imagine, crashed while descending a couple years ago. She broke her wrist and had to sit out for months while it healed. Cycling is, for sure, dangerous. Even in places like Boulder, where everyone is fairly aware and smart about riding.
Seeing this man so broken was a reminder to the cyclists in the crowd, and the drivers. Slowing down, even a little bit, makes a huge difference. Paying constant attention is such a crucial part of being on the road. In my opinion, the descent is always the most dangerous part. After climbing 3,200 feet of gravel in the blazing heat, I was spent: I just wanted to get back down the mountain and jump in the pool. I saw my device surpass 44 mph at one point, and I slowed way down: even if I felt under control, the damage I'd do to myself at 44+ mph would be at least slightly reduced if I slowed a bit. I like to think I'm a safe, smart cyclist, but I need to be most aware when I'm tired and finished with most of the physical work. The downhill is not the time to turn the mind off: just the opposite.