Blazin' Saddles


British drivers this week showed they have zero tolerance towards British Cycling key figures for whom zero tolerance is not an issue.

In the space of 24 hours, Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky and his mentor and coach Shane Sutton were both hospitalised after freak collisions with drivers.

Thankfully neither victim was seriously injured — although 55-year-old Sutton will remain in hospital under close observation for a few days.

It's the latest blow for the sport, described recently by Scottish ex-doping celebrity David Millar as a "deeply criminal business". It now seems to the uneducated eye that hit-and-run can be added to a long list of cycling demeanours that include money laundering, match fixing, drug trafficking, perjury, slander, alcoholism, prostitution, fraud and myriad fashion-related felonies (committed primarily while crossing the Belgian border).

Wiggins suffered what Team Sky described as "minor injuries" — a bruised hand, dislocated finger and cracked ribs — on Wednesday evening when a motorcycling-mad, Porsche-loving businesswoman nonchalantly pulled out of a petrol station on the M6 in Lancashire and collided with the seven-time Olympic gold medallist.

"I just didn't see him," the lady was reported to have said by The Sun.

"It's bad enough to knock anyone off a bike — but imagine you've just floored the most famous cyclist on the planet," The Sun claimed a "chum" of the driver said (although we all really know that said "chum" was no doubt the overnight news editor of The Sun, looking for an all-too-perfect soundbite).

"Do you realise who you've hit?" the policeman on the scene was reported to have asked the driver — the vicarious equivalent of turning up at a nightclub and telling the doorman "do you know who I am?".

Cath Burrows, the lady in question, rather oxymoronically runs a Porsche garage in Wigan. (Wasn't it Wigan's perceived lack of performance cars in relation to Manchester, that footballing giant of a city, that inspired Wiggo to ditch Garmin for Team Sky in the first place?).

Ms Burrows also drives a Ducati 96 motorbike — so clearly she hates all cyclists. (At least, this was the all-to-easy tabloid line). She was driving neither a Porsche nor a Ducati, however, when she collided with the seven-time Olympic champion. Instead, she was behind the wheels of a white Vauxhall Astra van (not thought to be linked to the new white label Rabobank outfit).

Wiggins was said to be riding a mountain bike en route to meeting a group of local cyclists near his home in Lancashire ahead of an evening ride. If only he had been wearing his yellow jersey and riding the "Velo d'Or" (golden bike) he picked up recently at an awards ceremony, he might well have been more conspicuous.

He was, oddly, being followed by a team car at the time — but then again, the son of the Vice President of the Unites States of America, in the TV series Homeland, gets followed by bodyguards and so this may be a normal thing for reigning Tour and seven-time Olympic champions.

The Sun mentions that Wiggins had "days ago shaved off his trademark 'lucky' sideburns" (because, clearly, lack of facial hair made all the difference). The Daily Star said that witnesses to the crash "say the champ collided so forcefully with the van that he snapped off the vehicle's wing mirror".

Cynics would say that media-shy Wiggins went extraordinary lengths to avoid conducting a radio interview with Chris Evans scheduled for the next morning (to promote his new book, My Time) and a BBC1 guest slot on the Graham Norton show the following evening. But then again, Wiggo always said he'd eschew celebrity in favour of doing normal things, and hanging around a petrol forecourt near Wrightington is about as normal as it gets.

Even more cynical cynics are saying that both accidents involving Wiggins and Sutton were part of a carefully choreographed PR campaign being led by Dave Brailsford. With Sky the team and Sky the sponsor both heavily involved in promoting grassroots cycling and campaigning about road safety, the incidents could be viewed as a timely reminder that there is still so much to be done in the UK to improve cycling's infrastructure.

London mayor Boris Johnson chose the aftermath of Wiggins' crash to announce a doubling in hire costs for the popular "Boris Bikes" available for hire in the capital. ("Had Wiggo been cycling a Barclays Bike and not a carbon fibre mountain bike the white van would have been a total write-off, hahaha!" Boris didn't guffaw.)

On his release from hospital, so dislocated was Wiggo's middle digit that the grumpy-looking seven-time Olympic champion was forced to give the circling paparazzi vultures a one-fingered salute of the kind dealt out only by someone accustomed to sitting in golden thrones in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace.

Wiggo's curmudgeonly gesture may have seemed a bit rich given the genuine concern the vast majority of the nation held for the man who in one month's time is likely to run away with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year gong.

But the reaction was wholly understandable given it came from someone who unwittingly made front page news two days running simply because he probably wanted to pop out and pick up some milk from the local petrol station so he could make a cup of tea and watch Coronation Street.

Jokes aside, Saddles wishes both Wiggo and Shane a speedy recovery. And to all cyclists (and drivers) on the road — take care and respect others.