USA Cycling has opened an investigation into a crash last Saturday that left one of America’s top domestic criterium riders with a shattered collarbone and another rider facing legal charges and calls for a lifetime ban.
Kenda-5-hour Energy’s Isaac Howe hit the deck hard in a straight section of the Electric City Circuit in Anderson, South Carolina and immediately accused Jonathan Atkins (Beck Janitorial) of intentionally crashing him. Kenda team management has called for a lifetime ban for Atkins, and Howe, who’s slated for surgery this week, is planning to press charges.
The accused rider, Georgia’s Jon Atkins, contends that the incident has been blown out of proportion and that the crash was accidental.
Stuart Lamp, the southeast regional coordinator for USA Cycling, said the chief referee filed a disciplinary report against Atkins after the race, and now the governing body will look into the crash.
“This is the formal procedure with rider discipline that you see at USA Cycling events,” Lamp told VeloNews. “The investigation into the matter is begging. As far as anything else, I really don’t have a comment on it. But this will all be resolved in due time.”
Lamp said he’d never seen an incident like Saturday’s crash before. “Not in my time, and I’ve been a Cat. 1 and raced for years. Never,” he said.
As a standard rule, Atkins was suspended for 72 hours following the race, but Lamp didn’t know of any other immediate suspensions.
Both Lamp and Andrea Smith, the communications director for USA Cycling, underscored the notion that riders at USA Cycling races can file grievances on their own (per the rulebook’s outlines) and that complaints don’t have to only come from race officials.
The race was the next-to-last stop on the USA Crits Speed Week calendar and would normally have ben relegated to old news by now, if not for the crash and the eruption of social media blasts that ensued. There were initial reports that Atkins was arrested (not true) and that the crash happened in a turn, with riders attempting to hold lines (also not true).
Based on descriptions of the incident from a number of eye witnesses, what appears to have occurred is this: Atkins was forced off the road in a turn, and later rode up to Howe and confronted the younger and smaller, but by results, more accomplished rider.
As detailed in our story on Sunday, Howe says Atkins demanded an apology, which he initially said he “made fun” of the larger rider for doing. Howe has taken criticism for that, and sought to provide some insight a few days removed from the accident.
Howe said he was more sarcastic than outright, implying that the older rider couldn’t be “serious” in asking for an apology during the middle of a crit for something Howe says he had nothing to do with.
“My response to him was more of a sarcastic gesture. I couldn’t believe he was concerned with that in that moment,” he said.
Other racers, and Kenda brass, have said outright that the crash was intentional. Chad Thompson, the owner of the Kenda squad, called Atkins’ alleged action “insane” a day after the crash, and added that Howe planned to press assault and battery charges.
At the time of the crash, Howe was in second place on the National Criterium Calendar. He wrote in an email to VeloNews on Wednesday that he would pursue a civil case against Atkins:
“Yes, I am filling civil charges against Atkins and the Anderson [Police Department] is in the process of gaining evidence to file criminal charges as well. I cannot speak for the team, but I have heard that they too are looking into pressing charges.”
Howe was scheduled to undergo surgery to repair his collarbone on Thursday to repair a double fracture of his clavicle.
When reached on Wednesday, Atkins said he had yet to hear from USA Cycling but still laments the crash deeply.
“You know, it’s just one of those things. I was ready for contact… and there was. It was absolutely not on purpose, man. Absolutely.” He said he was ready for contact because of the buildup during the race.
Atkins, 48, said he planned to take some time away from racing, and thought it may be time to drop out of pro races and into the masters category. The incident, he said, has drained the fun from racing.
“I’m not trying to make a career in cycling, and I know he is, and it hurts me, backing him up on that,” Atkins said of Howe. “I definitely don’t want to hinder anyone’s movement to front of the peloton.”
Asked if he was worried he’d earned a reputation as a dirty rider — fair or not — Atkins thought he had not.
“I don’t think people are going to think I’m a dirty rider. This is just a bad series of events and an unfortunate accident,” he said. “I think I’m going to take some time off and chill out and see what happens with this.”