Accident shatters title dream
A rogue gust of wind has blown away Blenheim cyclist Ray Dunstan's hopes of a world title - at least for the time being.
Just over a month ago, the 54-year-old veteran was in superb shape, poised to ride for gold at the UCI World Cycling Tour finals in Slovenia after coming off victory in a qualifying event in Perth, Australia.
After returning to New Zealand Dunstan continued his carefully-programmed buildup, reaching new performance levels and confident he could surpass the time trial silver medal he won at the worlds in 2007.
With his training going to plan, a friend suggested he travel to Nelson to participate in a club time trial at Aniseed Valley.
It seemed a good idea at the time. But within minutes of the start, his dreams were shattered - along with his shoulder blade, lung and four ribs.
Dunstan takes up the story: "I had come down the road and was leaning around the corner. There was a gap between the hills on one side, but I wouldn't have been exposed [to the wind] there for even two seconds before a gust, right at the time I was at that point, lifted me off the road. My coach was following in his car and he had to lean forward and look up to see how high I went."
Although he recalls little following the accident, Dunstan said his bike computer registered 57.9kmh at the time of the crash.
He came down to earth on the same side of the road he was riding on, a godsend according to the vastly-experienced cyclist who has since checked out the accident site and realised that, with a rock-filled culvert at the side of the road, he may not have survived if he had not ended up on the tarmac.
The stricken rider, suffering a punctured lung, broken shoulder blade and "flailed" chest, was stabilised in an ambulance, then flown by helicopter to Nelson Hospital where he was kept for four days.
A talk with the surgeon the day after the crash confirmed that Dunstan's world championship chances were over.
"I remember saying a week before my accident, ‘I just have to make sure I don't get sick or have a crash'."
He remains confident the course was safe to ride.
"There was a bit of wind around, but I drove the course before the race and it looked OK. It wasn't perfect for a time trial situation, but it was an absolute freak gust of wind that caught me."
The accident dealt Dunstan a double blow, with his partner Kathryn Walker having also qualified in Perth to compete at the worlds, but now staying at home.
"It was interesting in Perth," said Dunstan.
"They had the time trial, then the road race then a gran fondo and I talked [Kathryn] into doing the gran fondo because she was coming over to the worlds with me. Then she did a brilliant ride . . . that qualified her for the worlds. It was a great effort by her."
Before fate played its hand, Dunstan planned to complete two more races in Marlborough before flying out on August 21, having qualified for the world champs in both the road race and time trial, which he won by over a minute.
Despite coping with the realisation that months of training would not come to fruition on the world stage, Dunstan is looking ahead.
"It has knocked me back a bit," he admits, "but I'm getting around that."
"I have always seen the time trial as the safest part of my sport. I have had a worse crash on the road, but I don't remember crashing in a time trial before. I've been pretty cautious and feel I am pretty good at judging the risk.
"I have ridden in the winds we have had [in Marlborough], with the same gear, and it hasn't worried me at all."
The 2015 world champs will be staged in Denmark and Dunstan has his sights firmly set on making the trip to Scandinavia.
Next year he moves into the 55-60 age bracket, giving him an added advantage.
"I am definitely going to Denmark.
"There's still that unfinished business to take care of."
The Marlborough Express