A cyclist participating in the Rasputitsa 100K gravel race in East Burke, Vermont, was killed on Saturday morning after a head-on collision with a non-race vehicle.
According to Vermont State Police, they were notified of a collision between a pick-up truck and a cyclist at 9:20 am on Saturday, April 29th, near the intersection of Brook Road and Carter Road. The preliminary investigation indicates the rider was traveling south on Brook Road when he entered the northbound side of the road. At that time, Alex Goss of East Haven, VT, was traveling north on Brook Road in a Dodge pickup truck. The front of the pickup struck the cyclist head on. The cyclist was 54-year-old Richard Wantall of Marblehead, MA.
Cycling Weekly spoke with race support vehicle driver, Benjamin Knight, who arrived at the scene moments after the incident occurred.
“The bike was under the truck. It was bad,” Knight said. “While we waited, the race crew administered CPR.”
According to witnesses, the truck driver stopped on the northbound shoulder near the intersection following the collision. Other riders called 911 immediately. It took 19 minutes for emergency personnel to arrive. An ambulance transported the injured cyclist to a local hospital where he was later pronounced deceased. Currently, neither speed nor impairment are considered contributing factors in the collision. The incident is still under investigation.
Rasputitsa is a gravel bike race unlike any other. The russian word for ‘mud season’, Rasputitsa has been held since 2014 and is a true community event. Volunteers wear T-shirts that read “FREE HUGS” and everyone embodies the race motto of “All people. All bikes.” More than 1,400 riders traveled from across the U.S. and Canada to attend this year’s event — the largest number of participants the race has seen to date.
Although the off-road dirt terrain differs each year depending on the weather, participants ride tandem bikes, mountain bikes and gravel bikes. The organizers host a pre-race Pride Ride. Each race has a theme with a DJ and a cover band playing live at the after-party. Last year, it was ACDC. This year, it was ‘90s grunge.
You never know who or what might cheer and motivate you from the sidelines and aid stations. Unicorns, yetis, a carrot, gorilla or Cookie Monster might be jumping up and down, giving you maple syrup or whiskey shots and chocolate chip cookie hand-ups. The day is supposed to be about fun, a shared love of cycling and community.
But this year, although no one knew the status of the rider at first, the mood became somber. The party vibe was over.
“When we heard, we didn’t know any details other than one of our riders was struck and hurt. At that moment, the day stopped being about Rasputitsa and became focused on getting every single rider back safely,” said race director Heidi Myers. “We’re focused on doing anything we can to support the family and the riders who were on the scene,” she continued.
Myers said that when emergency services arrived, the race organizers promptly rerouted the course of all the racers behind the accident site to respect the medical personnel and give them space.
As the state police dealt with the collision and the paramedics were focused on the injured racer, the race organizers had to make intentional decisions on the fly. Their action plan included bringing in a grief counselor to support any riders who were in the area or near the accident. They identified them and invited them into a private room with the counselor if they wanted to talk to someone.
“Once we were made aware of the crash and the situation, we immediately paused our social media feed. We didn’t want to project any celebration because that felt disrespectful,” said Myers.
Race directors can do everything imaginable to protect racers and keep them safe, but unfortunately, some things are out of their control.
With tears in her eyes, Myers said, “Our condolences and support lie with the family. Our hearts are broken.”
Rasputitsa’s organizers ask that the cycling community and media kindly respect the privacy and space of the cyclist’s grieving friends and family.
Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or have further information about the collision, please contact the Vermont State Police at 802-241-5000.