NIGHTMARE ON QUEENS PARK RD - PART 2
The final lap of the Men’s Cycling Road Race at the Sydney Olympics holds another chaotic canine incident.
The crowds thinned towards the end of the event in Queens Park. Standing for hours on a warm spring day required more stamina than many could manage. Only the faithful clung to the barricades as the cream of mens’ world cycling rose to the top. Exhausted bodies on bikes scattered around the circuit, ground their way to the finish. Some spectators headed for local shops. Fit and diehard cycling-tragics climbed the hill and hurried to the finish line. Others opened picnic hampers and bathed in the sunshine and beauty of the green expanse. The exhilaration and festive spirit of another memorable Olympic event drew to a dramatic finish.
The nightmare of the first lap had eased. Apart from a few recalcitrants who tried to cross the hazardous section at the base of the hill, the race continued without incident in my sector. The race leaders, including Armstrong passed. Individual riders and small groups, hoping to transition from a reduced peloton to join the front-runners followed. Shiny team cars, bikes clamped to roof-racks sat at their rear. Then, the weary peloton and a few exhausted stragglers.
Minutes later, the residue appeared. It included the familiar sight of the sports-director of a South American team in a white car following his solitary rider, languishing in the final lap. His incessant commands, "Andale" - "Andale” through a loud speaker made little difference to the speed of his man. A few metres behind, a collection of desperadoes emerged. Finally, a frantic lone rider, hips and shoulders rocking, tongue hanging out, strained to make contact with the small group. A police motorcyclist sat behind, providing safe escort for the last rider in the event.
Aussie crowds love an underdog - a struggler, and the lone, desperate pursuer captured their hearts. They cheered and clapped encouragement. The cyclist, determined to avoid humiliation as last across the finish-line, dug deep. He also needed the energy-saving support of the group. In a bold and strenuous face-saving effort, he leant heavily on the drops. Backside off the saddle, he summoned every last ounce of strength to reach the wheel of the last rider in the small bunch, only a tantalising two metres. The gap narrowed as he passed - success a second away. Would he make it? The crowd came alive and cheered, willing him on.
Without warning, a dog of slightly larger proportions than the mutt of my earlier torture, shot out of Bourke Street with the force of a cannonball and hit the front-wheel of his bike.
Now if misadventure arises, a cyclist prefers an object to impact the rear wheel. A sideways blow to the front by a bike, body or dog, seriously interferes with the ability to steer. Given the state of exhaustion and the impact of the crazy canine, the cyclist miraculously remained upright. He wobbled to a stop. Too shocked and shattered to speak, the policeman, pulled up beside him and shouted on his behalf, ‘WHO OWNS THIS BLOODY DOG?’
At the moment of impact, I began my Olympic sprint - a two-hundred metre dash from my guard-post at the foot of the hill, to the scene of the crime. A team-mate frantically chased the dazed animal, disorientated by the collision, running in circles.
My arrival did little to reduce the heartbreak and tension. The devastated cyclist sat slumped on his bike, leaning forward, forehead resting on the handlebars. The pool on the road beside his front-wheel, either tears or perspiration. The police officer continued to curse as I joined the fracas.
The capture of this wretched mongrel was more challenging than its earlier colleague in crime. Success seemed certain when it suddenly bolted like a bat-out-of-hell to the street from whence it came. The policeman, the shattered cyclist, myself, and a small band of well-meaning bystanders watched without speaking. Fifty metres away down Bourke Street, running at a frantic pace from the scene of broken dreams, a middle-aged woman, a Labrador by her side. The hound soon caught the duo and reunited, the three continued their flight, escaping into the distance.