Cyclist concerned about road conditions after near miss 

Debris on Highway 99 worries Ironman competitors

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Broken Bike The remains of Michelle Ball's Orbea bike, which was hit by a vehicle after a near miss on Highway 99 on May 29.
  • Photo submitted
  • Broken Bike The remains of Michelle Ball's Orbea bike, which was hit by a vehicle after a near miss on Highway 99 on May 29.

Michelle Ball had already turned back once because her bike was damaged by debris on the highway.

After slicing her tire open on debris and regrouping to bring out another bike, her second incident of the afternoon on May 29 was far more harrowing.

The Vancouver cyclist and Ironman veteran was in the resort for a ride in preparation for an Ironman 70.3 in Victoria later this month and the Subaru Ironman Canada in Whistler in July when she slammed into a large rock on the shoulder of Highway 99 near Meadow Lane.

"There was a pretty good-sized shoulder to the road. Just from my perspective, what happens is a bit of bad timing," she said. "I wasn't even going that fast, but I was passed by one cyclist and then another cyclist. The two cyclists who had just passed me, who were heading in the same direction, it wasn't their fault but they obscured my ability to see very far ahead.

"I hit this rock and it was like I may as well have driven into a curb. Of course, it all happened pretty fast. My head basically goes straight towards the ground. As far as I can piece things together, which of course I did all night long, I think I must have actually flipped when I hit the rock."

Ball recalled her tire shooting out into the road and her orange Orbea getting crushed be a passing vehicle.

"When I hit the ground, my bike slid into the traffic," she said. "When I hit (the rock), there was a lot of traffic. There was traffic on my left, a car on my left and a car behind (that).

"When my bike started heading into the car, I somehow managed to not be on it. I must have come loose from my pedal. The truck rolled right over my bike and fortunately I was a few inches away to not get rolled over."

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is responsible for scheduling highway sweeping. A spokesperson told Pique in an email that the ministry was looking into the issue but did not respond with any further comment by press time.

The big takeaway, Ball reasoned, is that she knows how to fall safely and away from traffic — and was nearly hit even then. Less experienced riders may not be quite so fortunate.

"All those rocks and all that debris, they're just accidents waiting to happen for the cyclists because there isn't anywhere to go," she said. "I'm actually quite a skilled cyclist and I've ridden those roads many, many times over the years and it's just an example — even (for) a skilled cyclist, there are going to be occasions where accidents happen and there's no room for error.

"Even though I was pretty skilled at being able to tumble off my bike and control it, it still ended up getting run over by the car which was right beside me just a couple feet away."

As Ball's experience shows, even longtime cyclists aren't able to scan the road immediately in front of them for potential hazards, whether it's because of passing riders or a need to look further down the road. That makes clear access all the more important.

"I do think it's worse this year," she said. "With the weather changing, I think every year we're getting out earlier.

"I remember being quite concerned because it took a long time before the Ironman Canada race date before those roads were cleared... There should really be an effort made to get those roads cleaned before all the cyclists are hitting them."

Ball said she has some road rash, but since Sunday was a cooler day, she was bundled up and avoided major injuries. She noted she has swollen knees and elbows that may keep her from competing in Victoria but despite any setbacks, still plans on competing here in Whistler in July.

On an open Ironman Canada Facebook group, Ball posted about her experience. Other athletes replied, many expressing relief she wasn't injured more severely, while others shared their own experiences with the highway. California resident Pam Batungbacal spent a week training in the area earlier this month and also had a hairy experience on the highways with poor shoulders.

"There is either a lot of debris or they have thrown asphalt down to fill holes without flattening them so they make for a very rough, bumpy ride. And it's especially noticeable going downhill towards Pemberton. The cars really do come close and the trucks even more so. They drive super fast and make it quite dangerous," Batungbacal wrote in a Facebook message. "I'm a fairly careful defensive cyclist, but (in) my incident I had been told to take the road, which I did. Then when the truck nearly took me out, I seriously don't know how I didn't crash.

"I tried to get off the road but everything happened so fast (although it seemed to go on forever) I couldn't get off the road far enough because of the bumps (and the speed going downhill) that I did not have control of my bike. It took me quite a ways to actually come to stop after the incident."



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