Sunday, September 26, 2010

Yet another senseless cycling tragedy: Jure Robic dead at age 45.

Two days later, I am still in utter disbelief that cycling legend Jure Robic is dead, killed when he collided with a car on a trining ride a few miles from his home in Slovenia. While the details of the accident are still forthcoming, it seems to me that it just can't be true. This was the man with seemingly endless stamina, strength and courage who was able to win the Race Across America (RAAM) five times in the past ten years. The guy who shattered the 24-hour cycling record in 2004 with a distance of 518 miles and who won Le Tour Direct, the one stage version of the Tour de France, in 2005 with a finish time of 7 days, 19 hours and 40 minutes. Read Markoh Baloh's fine personal account of that race here.

In addition to winning races, Jure was renowned for his erratic behavior and world class hallucinations while racing. The 2006 New York Times profile of Jure made him out to be something of a mad, athletic freak. Maybe he was. He rarely slept and often berated his crew during the race and famously abandoned the 2009 edition of RAAM (after completling mile 2862!!) when he and his crew disputed a time penalty imposed by RAAM officials. I learned a lot about both Jure's pathos and his amazing riding style by watching the amazing film Bicycle Dreams which profiles several of the solo racers on their quest to win the 2005 edition of RAAM. Anyone interested in endurance cycling should be sure to see this remarkable documentary. It may well ruin any dreams you have of competing in RAAM, but it provides a peerless window into the emotional life of the ultra-endurance athlete.

Being hit by a car is the last thing I wanted to have in common with Jure Robic. It sends shivers down my spine to think that within one month of my own accident, one of the greatest endurance athletes who's ever lived was cut down in his prime in much the same way that I was injured. While I am aware, on an intellectual level, of how miraculous my condition is after such an accident, this parallel situation is a bit haunting.

So the world is a worse place now than it was several days ago when Jure was still with us. With this tragedy we have yet another example (as if we needed one) that cycling is a dangerous sport and far too many people have suffered tragedies and lost their lives when colliding with cars pursuing their passion. I know that I will never approach riding the same way after mine and Jure's accidents, but I can only hope that the roads become safer and drivers more sensitized to the needs of cyclists. I also hope that Jure's girlfriend and son are able to rebuild their lives in his absence.


  1. Thank you for your thoughts,George.Jure was an outstanding inspiration for us,a living proof of breaking down the highest wall by iron will and a heart of a lion.ln sport,in life...His loss has left my country in a state of shock,heartbroken,from Friday comments are popping out like a fresh grass on our news forums,only now we realize what our country and the whole world have lost with this remarkable person's tragic farewell.He's pushed himself beyond imaginable limits of body and mind,his conditioning was torturous and spartan,his bike was like some Siamese twin to him,never to be separated...Watching his interviews and film reports from RAAM has left me deeply impressed by this forever smiling man,any life task seemed not much of a big deal to him,his approach was so easy and realistic,to sport,to life,always positive minded.Our country is weeping in disbelief and l'm thankful to all of you from around the world for paying tribute to this unreplaceable and great man,likes of him are being born every thousand years.R.I.P.,Jure.

  2. Great post but a very sad loss of a sporting inspiration and legend. Would you mind if I put a link to it on our blog
    Cheers, Steve.

  3. @lancefieldlairs Thanks - please feel free to link to my blog. I had a very nice chat with Marko Baloh after reading his moving account of his friend Jure's loss. You can read that here:

  4. While I too regret the loss of this great athlete, I would prefer that you did not use the term “utter disbelief” when describing your response to his death.

    The man must have maintained a training and racing schedule of something like fifty hours a week, and most of it was probably on the public roads open to all traffic.

    The fact that he was -- at least for an instant -- in conflict with at least one other traveller, should not come as a shock.

    (Your Eliot quotation is an odd choice in this context.)

    I was hit by a truck in 1970 when I ran a red light in a blind turn at night with no lights on my bicycle.

    It happens to some of us, both great and small,

    Bob Cooper

  5. Bob - While you would prefer I not use the phrase "utter disbelief" to convey my reaction to the news of Jure's death, that is an accurate description of my feelings at that moment in time. While one can logically deduce that a cyclist riding over 28,000 miles a year would have a higher than average chance of colliding with a car, it can still be a shock when it happens. More so when the rider in question is so amazing and skilled so as to seem superhuman and perhaps even invincible.

    Another point I tried to convey in my post is my personal reaction to his death at this specific moment in my life. For the past five weeks, I've been in a hospital recovering from a serious cycling accident myself, the last three weeks on a spinal rehabilitation floor surrounded by people who lost the ability to walk, feed themselves, urinate without a catheter, etc. in a split second. I don't need a lecture on chance and fate. Right now, I'd just like to walk again and maybe go home to see my wife and kids. Have a good day.

  6. George,

    I had heard about your collision via the randonneuring community, and I sent a get well letter to the hospital, hoping that it would reach you. (I broke my leg in a cycling incident in 2006, age 59.)

    “I don't need a lecture on chance and fate.” Point taken. I apologize for my comments. It’s not my intent to lecture anyone.

    But I needed to make the point that how we speak and write affect how we think, which in turn affects how we respond.

    My comment was about our choice of words -- mine, yours, all of ours -- that frame a point of view on a traffic-safety issue. (Rethink “chance” and “fate,” for example.)

    I wanted to put into perspective the notion that none of us is invincible, not even our heroes, and that therefore these things shouldn’t come as a shock.

    The New York Times -- perhaps accurately -- quoted an eyewitness, a friend of Robic’s, saying that Robic was descending at 50 mph in a blind turn on an unpaved road. His frame of mind at the time may have been affected by his extreme training and racing regimens, also commented upon by the press, and/or the recent suicide of his brother.

    Helpful would be an accurate report on the collision and an analysis of what happened. That would help us. It is almost never done, though. Calling it a tragedy -- true or not -- does not help us avoid collisions and falls in the future. (One of my club mates, who suffered a serious brain injury in traffic about thirty years ago, refuses to allow me to use the word “accident.”)

    So, I hope you can forgive my using your blog to make this point, not to you, but to anyone reading it.

    A blog goes out to the world. In a sense, a blog is impersonal. A conversation among strangers who have a common interest.

    I wish you the best in your recovery.


  7. Bob - I understand your points. I do think, even more so after reading the Times obituary yesterday, that Robic was an active agent in his own death. It may have been his fault entirely. Again, my reaction was largely emotional rather than analytical. I did receive your note by the way - thank you. That was very thoughtful. I did not make the connection when I saw your name here. Be safe out there.