In 2001 the World Health Organisation published their annual audit of ‘Nastiest things to fall off’. Sandwiched between ‘rodeo bull’ in first place and ‘sewage plant inspection walkway’ in third, the bicycle in second place remains one of the objects universally recognised as being something that you should do your utmost to stay aboard.
In 2005 diminutive, Georgian/Irish songstress Katie Melua asserted that “there are nine million bicycles in Beijing – that’s a fact”. Some rough calculations reveal that this must result in around 2,000 crashes a day, of which the excited protagonists get to recount their suitably embellished experiences in a bar each evening.
The spectrum of unplanned dismounts from bicycles is vast. From Eric Barone’s mountain bike conveniently separating while riding down that volcano in Nicaragua at about 100mph to that absent-minded mum opening the door of her 4×4 on you while dropping her kid off at school this morning, some crashes are pub-chat worthy material whilst others are best kept to yourself.
July 1991 saw one accident broadcast live across the world that is up there with the best.
Enter the Tashkent Terror…
The ‘Tashkent Terror’ is a name whispered in hushed tones in far Eastern Europe. Just the mere mention of the word by parents gets troublesome children to eat their veg and go to bed. As the years go by, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, the person behind this near-mythical figure, becomes ever more distant, but his name still evokes clear enough memories by those unfortunate enough to incur his wrath while racing alongside him.
1991 saw Abdoujaparov at the pinnacle of his unpredictable sprinting best. From the ex-Soviet state of Uzbekistan, tough and uncompromising, he was renowned as much for his fast-finishing as he was for his ability to put his rivals into the barriers with his erratic and aggressive manoeuvres.
The early ’90’s was a difficult period of professional cycling. The Hinault era had now passed while Greg LeMond’s battle with the bulge each spring would mean that he’d never again challenge for a major victory while being a guinea-pig for some sort of ridiculous handlebar ensemble. The UCI had called in consultants that spring to see how the sport could dig itself out of its current malaise. They came up with firstly a massive bill, but also a five-point improvement plan. Within in this was the need for an injection of razzmatazz, which involved infiltrating some loose-cannons within the peloton.
It is widely acknowledged that TV stations love loose-cannons and sports heavily weighted with this type of character generally attract far higher commercial revenues. With Miguel Indurain as far from a loose cannon as you could imagine, his forthcoming domination of the sport would need an appropriate balancing act the other end of the temperament-stability scale.
The search went out far and wide and like a beacon of light, the Tashkent Terror came forth.
Whilst he was well known within the world of professional cycling, his actions during the final stage into Paris in the 1991 edition of the race would announce him onto the world stage. Wearing the green jersey denoting his lead in the prestigious points competition, Abdu was expected to crown his achievement with a stage victory on the Champs-Elysees, the boulevard upon which every sprinter wants to win.
As the peloton entered the home straight, Abdu exploded down the left hand side. Seemingly heading for the win, he suddenly veered left, smashing into one of the giant publicity Coca-Cola cans before being catapulted into the air as he then hit the barriers. Lying prostrate on the Parisian cobbles, the world held its breath until the Tashkent Terror rose like an emerald phoenix to cross the line and claim his prize before being hurried off to hospital.
As the TV station endlessly replayed the crash, not even the most well respected pundit could come up with an explanation as to how Abdu managed to end up, unaided, spread-eagled across the world’s most famous avenue. Abdu himself refused to speak about the incident. He played out the final years of his career, winning the green jersey twice more, before retiring following a drugs ban.
Putting Coca-Cola into the Russian spotlight
Recently, however, Abdu has been willing to talk about cycling’s most famous crash and how it has provided for a very comfortable retirement.
Speaking from his multi-million dollar villa in Tashkent’s most luxurious suburb, Abdu was ready to reveal the real story behind what appeared to be a completely random event: “As the only rider from Uzbekistan, I felt quite isolated and didn’t really integrate with the other Russian riders. I was befriended by one of the Russian Cycling Federation’s management team, who I knew also worked for the Government. What I did not know that was that this man, Vladimir Putin, was a low-ranking KGB agent.
We often talked about home and how we missed it and it was during one of these late-night conversations that he put forward a proposal that I found difficult to decline. Basically, he had been contacted by the then struggling Coca-Cola Company, who were concerned that they were being outsold 10-1 by their rival cola manufacturers. They needed something to thrust Coca-Cola back into the public eye, especially in Russia where the market for cola-based drinks is worth $50 billion in hard western currency.
“The plan was simple. They’d pay me a flat fee and I’ll ride into a Coca-Cola can, the sight of which would be replayed millions of times. Putin’s role was as a go-between. The Russian Government kept tight control on all Western Companies looking to access the lucrative Russian markets and Putin was the gatekeeper in this instance.”
Although well paid to take this deliberate fall, Abdu was professional enough for it to grapple with his conscience. “It gave me sleepless nights. I wanted to win but my wife and children back home needed the money. What would you do?”
His exploits at winning the jersey despite the crash made him a national hero with Moscow affording him a parade in his honour. Coca-Cola narrowly avoided bankruptcy and were able to expand into Russia where the locals were pleased to finally have a mixer for all that vodka.
But the real winner was Abdu.
A keen watcher of modern technology, Abdu was an early adopter of the then primitive Internet and was able to foresee its growth from military intelligence applications to stalking ex-girl/boyfriends on popular social networking sites such as MyFace and Placebook. Abdu spent much of his Coca-Cola fee buying up the TV rights to his crash from the Tour organisers. Today, every time the footage is viewed either online or on television, Abdu gets paid. Last year alone, the 8 million plus viewings of his crash netted him a cool $950,000 making him the third richest man in Uzbekistan.
If you want to visit the site of this amazing episode in cycling’s rich history, the evidence is still clear enough to be seen today. A leisurely walk down the Champs-Elysees roughly 80 meters from the traditional finish line and you will spot the unmistakable outline of the Tashkent Terror outlined on the cobbles. Indeed, embedded between them are still fragments of those Denim-style shorts subsequently banned by the UCI after legal advice from the Fashion Police.