Road racing can be scary: Perhaps you’re afraid of your wheel getting chopped, getting shoved into a curb, pinched in a tight turn, or crashed in a finishing sprint. But for the pro cyclists who’ve descended on Wollongong, Australia, this week for UCI Road World Championships, there's an even bigger fear looming: The Birds. Specifically, the magpies.
That’s right, Australia is strangely known for having magpies who love to attack cyclists during their rides, so much so that some cyclists—for a laugh or for actual protection—have taken to attaching sticks or other devices to their helmets to avoid birds swooping in their faces. Seriously, according to The Bicycle Network, the best way to avoid these large birds from dive-bombing you is apparently to attach pipe cleaners to your helmet. While we're hoping to see Wout Van Aert hit the start line with a helmet festooned with pipe cleaners, we’re willing to bet that the pros eschew this less-than-aero advice.
Still, they have expressed nerves over contending with threats from the sky as well as from within the peloton. The finish line of the road race is situated directly near a sign that warns cyclists of swooping birds, thanks to a local nesting area in the city south of Sydney. The sign reads “Dismount and walk your bike through this area. Magpies are nesting in this area,” according to The Guardian. Dare we hope for a cyclocross-styled dismount and sprint to the finish?
According to MagpieAlert.com, an actual web site that really exists, Australia has had over 1600 recorded magpie attacks this year alone, with over 200 injuries reported.
“I’ve been swooped twice already since being here,” Australian rider Grace Brown reportedly told The Guardian. Despite the danger, she still scooped up silver in the time trial yesterday, so no angry birds have ruined her performance.
“A fairly large bird came very close and it just kept following me,” Belgian rider and winner of the Vuelta a España, Remco Evenepoel, told CyclingNews. “It was terrifying. But that's Australia, apparently. I hope it's the only time it happens, but I am afraid of it.”
Here's hoping that the road races in the coming week are unmarred by swooping magpies.
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