Top pro triathlete Richie Cunningham suffered arm, shoulder and back injuries when he crashed his bike trying to avoid a pickup truck which cut in front of a group of cyclists riding north of Boulder and slammed on its brakes in what Cunningham described as a deliberate act fueled by road rage.
Cunningham and fellow pros Joe Gambles, Patrick Evoe and Ben Hoffman were riding north on 83rd Street about 9 Am on July 4, headed to Carter Lake and Ft. Collins when they were passed by a red SUV, then by an older Toyota pickup truck with a camper shell.
“The truck just came flying past and did not give us the legally required 3 feet of separation,” said Cunningham.
“He buzzed us and laid on the horn,” said Hoffman. “Shortly after that, we started down a hill and saw the truck was tailgating the SUV. The guy in the truck must have seen us coming and I suspect it angered him that we were back. At that point he slammed on the brakes for no apparent reason and we all heard the tires squealing and the truck started to slide.”
Cunningham was closest to the truck and tried to take evasive maneuvers. “I was on the far right and the truck skidded all over and swerved and cut me off before I could slide through the gap,” said Cunningham. “So I hit my brakes and flipped over the front of my bars into the pavement. If I had hit the truck I might have gone through the windshield of the camper shell.”
Ben Hoffman, who was riding a little bit behind, heard Cunningham shout ‘Somebody get his license plate,’ and took off in pursuit. “Because there was that SUV ahead of him, the guy in the truck wasn't able to get away,” said Hoffman. “I yelled and waved at the guy to pull over because there was clearly an accident that we believed he caused,” said Hoffman. This guy knew what he did and kept going.”
Hoffman got the license plate number of the pickup truck and gave it to a police investigator. “He told me that the license number did match the description of the truck and said he would pursue the investigation,” said Hoffman.
Cunningham suffered a separated shoulder and a broken elbow – “a broken radial head on my elbow” – plus torn muscles in his back. “My arm is not brutally painful but my back flares up into some of my worst pain I ever felt in my life. When I twist or move it wrong, it feels like someone hit me with a blowtorch.”
After he was released from a local Boulder hospital Thursday night, Cunningham said he heard discouraging news about the police investigation. “I just did an interview with Denver Channel 4 and the reporter told me they spoke to the police in charge and at this state they do not know if they will press charges,” said Cunningham. “The reporter told me the police investigator doesn’t think it was done in deliberate aggression. If that is the case, I will push it far as I can. That was nothing but pure aggression. I have already contacted a lawyer to help me pursue charges.”
The Boulder Daily Camera reported that a Boulder County Sheriff's Office spokesman said the case is still under investigation and no tickets have been issued yet.
Cunningham told the Daily Camera, “"Yeah I think he had some road rage.” Hoffman added, "The feeling for sure is that it was deliberate.”
Cunningham’s injuries come at a key point in his career. This season he won the prestigious Ironman 70.3 St. Croix and Ironman 70.3 Texas and placed second at Rev3 Williamsburg and Rev3 Quassy and was focused on the Ironman 70.3 World Championship this September in Las Vegas. Cunningham has placed in the top five at this race four times and had his eye on a podium or a win at the age of 39.
Hoffman said that the lingering shadow of this incident is the relationship between cyclists and motorists – even in the largely friendly roads of Boulder County. “This really highlighted tension we all see between cyclists and motorists,” said Hoffman. “Because we do this for a living, we are some of the most courteous riders on the roads. We do not go through stop signs and we do not ride two abreast as soon as we see a car. We immediately go to the far side of the road and ride in a single file line. Richie will lose six weeks of his livelihood or more. In particular, he will lose one of his best chances for a great finish at his key race - the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Las Vegas.”
Cunningham said his recovery might take anywhere from six to 10 weeks. “It is pretty unlikely I can be at full strength for Las Vegas,” said Cunningham. “I will probably still be there. But I don’t know how competitive I will be.”