• Down, but not out... A battered Geraint Thomas crosses the line atop Blockhaus at the Giro d'Italia. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A series of high profile deaths has stunned the cycling community, leaving many of us to question whether to ride at all. In two admirable beings, Anthony Tan has found reason to keep pedalling.
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Cycling Central
16 May 2017 - 10:14 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2017 - 12:17 AM

The incessant chatter about housing affordability in Australia appears to be creating a generational divide, not unlike the class system in Britain that irks me no end. On talkback radio, when the subject presents itself all too frequently, I often hear baby boomers (in particular) and Gen Xers calling in, condescendingly telling Gen Ys and Millennials how they just need to work that bit harder and that bit longer, as they did back in the day, and hey presto, said house will be theirs, or at least the intent in the form of a deposit.

Never mind the fact that the past 40 years, average full-time earnings has increased 10 times yet house prices in our seven capitals is between 21 times (Canberra, Hobart) and 28-32 times (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth) higher.

It makes his 55th place somewhere between superhuman and otherworldly.

As a Gen Xer myself, I, too, have been guilty of being sucked into this way of thinking. Not so much about property per se but that those born in the generations after me can't impart on me anything worthwhile. I've found myself thinking, and occasionally, saying, many lack commitment; a knowledge of things that extend beyond a Google search; and because they're on their phone all the bloody time, proper (as in face-to-face) social skills.

Such sentiments, however, are more thought bubbles than dyed in the wool convictions; I've actually been looking for evidence to disprove these idle thoughts, primarily because I don't truly believe it, least not in its entirety.

Thankfully, two recent events have provided proof to think otherwise, and better still, a reason to keep cycling, which, in light of recent events with the deaths of Mike Hall (read: What do we do now?), Michele Scarponi (read: Will the next time be me?) and American Chad Young, is a concept I've been struggling with.

At 18 years young, South African born, now New Zealand-based Keagan Girdlestone had plenty of reasons to feel joyful. In the 2015 season, where he rode the National Road Series (NRS) for Charter Mason Giant Racing, he won the two French stage races he competed in, the Ain'Ternational-Rhône Alpes-Valromey Tour (also known as 'the Junior Tour de France') and Ronde des Vallées, and finished fourth in the Under-19 time trial at the road worlds in Richmond. It was enough to earn him a ride on Dimension Data's Continental team the following year - until a horrific crash at the Coppa della Pace in Italy on May 5 saw him plunge head-first into a team car that, in those fleeting moments, ended not just his season, but almost his life.

His carotid artery and jugular vein, severed. His right arm, bicep and vocal chord, paralysed. Two hours and 17 minutes without oxygen to the brain, resulting in several strokes and a cardiac arrest on the operating table. Due to oxygen deprivation, one third of the right side of his brain was declared dead; when he came out of his coma, doctors told him that he would not race again.

Saturday last, between the towns of Grafton to Inverell in northern New South Wales, and after 228 unrelenting kilometres, Girdlestone, riding as a guest with Team Ultra Racing, finished the hardest one-day event on the NRS calendar. It was only last November that he rode outdoors for the first time since that near-fatal accident, which makes his 55th place, some half an hour behind winner Neil van der Ploeg of IsoWheySports-SwissWellness, somewhere between superhuman and otherworldly. "This is just another piece in the comeback puzzle and I think it's a great opportunity to keep pushing myself to find new limits," the now 20-year-old said days before the race.

"My mentality is that, I could die doing so many things. But if I died riding my bike, then at least I knew I died doing the thing that I loved the most," he said in his 'Tour de Comeback' documentary on YouTube.

"My goals and ambitions are still the same. I haven't changed. My mind is set: it's still to win the Tour de France one day, win Olympics and the world championships. I've set myself a short-term goal to compete in the Commonwealth Games next year."

I'm not going to say whether Movistar should have waited on the road to Blockhaus on the ninth leg of the Giro d'Italia. There are always two sides to a story and what's happened has happened. But that Geraint Thomas, the one who lost most (other than Wilco Kelderman, who crashed out after clipping a police motorbike parked on the edge of the road, precipitating the demise of others including Thomas, Mikel Landa and Adam Yates), said: "It (the crash) shouldn't have happened, but that's what happened and I don't blame (Movistar), they were already riding a good while before that" - so soon after he finished more than five minutes down on stage winner and new race leader Nairo Quintana, effectively ending his GC campaign, well, I can only issue the highest praise on the 30-year-old Welshman, a rider - no, make that a person - I've long admired.

There was also the way he went from lying on the side of the road, his face contorted with pain, not just physical but the realisation his podium aspirations were over, to getting himself going again and still end the stage 29th and 17th overall - allowing himself a chance of making the top-10 come May 28 in Milan. "I thought I had done something bad to my shoulder, but the race doctor popped it back in, and it was okay, but obviously I had to get another bike. It was just game over."

Not for the first time, shoulder popped back in, new bike handed over, gets going again, finishes, and, in his first crack at leading a team at a Grand Tour, lives to fight another day. Just like that.

"I'm okay and there's nothing broken," he said in a press conference Monday, during the second rest day. "I've had a lot worse injuries and I'll be able to get through it. It's not ideal but hopefully it'll be a bit better again tomorrow and I can get stuck in and see what I've got." Landa and Yates, two other GC hopefuls involved in the same crash and both still in the race, deserve similar applause.

If Keagan and Geraint can get back on their bikes, that's reason enough for me to stay on mine. There's a lot to admire and much to learn from these younger generations, after all. I just wish they'd put down their phones.