“Last night, [the motoref] Kevin called me to say ‘I just finally figured out who did this, I wanted to say you saved this man’s life’, and I was like ‘really? I didn’t realize that’.” said a bemused Isaac Howe of the Mountain Khakis fueled by Jittery Joe’s team, last Friday afternoon.
During a race, in a heated moment with attacks and surges, Howe jumped off his bike to grab and pull up another rider that was sliding down a sheer 40-foot cliff. He then calmly got back on his bike to chase the main group. It happened so fast and with different categories racing on the course, it took a few days for officials to figure out that the hero of the day was the 24-year old Howe and not a Master’s rider as originally surmised.
“In my mind, Isaac was a hero.” said USA Cycling Motorcycle Referee Kevin Long, who was acting as moto-1 in the race.
The save. It all happened at the Blacksburg Road Race, a 64-mile race with 4 laps around hilly and rolling terrain in Virginia on July 25. Howe was leading the points omnium in the 3-day event going into the Sunday race.
“I got a flat a little bit early in the race, I chased back on, towards the end of the race I was a little bit tired, hanging out in the back trying to avoid the surges happening at the front of the race.” said Howe.
And that’s when it happened, on the final lap as the front group was going up on the climbing section. Long had a front row seat.
“Halfway through the last lap, the guys were climbing, short, steep hill and there was a small crash over on the left. DJ Dart, an Evolution Cycling rider, ran into the two guys that went down and he fell onto his left. Unfortunately, there was a maybe 6-inch shoulder and after that it was a sheer drop, literally. I saw it happening, I saw him sliding over the edge.” explained Long.
After a huge acceleration at the front of the field, Howe was passing a rider on the left to close a gap.
“We were all going about 6 miles an hour, pretty slowly, it was pretty steep. It happened to be very soft loose soil on the left side of the road, his front wheel washed out and he just toppled, and because he had gone to the left it happened in front of me. I had to put my foot down, there were people passing me on the right, I had to wait for them to pass me to start riding again. As I was waiting, this guy started sliding down this slope, head first on his back, I think he hit something or grabbed on something to stop himself from sliding further. He couldn’t move, he screamed for me to grab his legs.”
Long described, “One of the other riders jumped off his bike, dove for him and grabbed him by the ankle. DJ out there in space, his right arm is wrapped around a draining pipe and Isaac has him, keeping him from falling.”
Long “jetted” to close down the 40 feet that separated him from the two riders.
“I saw him sliding off, pretty much his head and upper body go, I knew it was trouble. I jumped off my motorcycle, ran over there and wasn’t thinking about it, I just bent down and grabbed him, DJ his arms were kind of flailing, I grabbed the hand that I could reach and started to pull him back off. At one point, DJ said that we started going backwards, I’m a lot bigger than he is, going over the edge as not an option for us.” Long continued.
Back to racing. “The moto official had just pulled up as I finished dragging him up, I saw that he was okay and the moto official was just getting off his bike, so I just jumped on my bike and started chasing back on to the field.” said Howe.
And just like that he was gone. “That’s the amazing part. I get DJ back to the road, I turned around and Isaac is gone, he jumped back on the bike and start chasing the peloton. He did a wonderful thing.” said Long.
Howe was able to catch back up to the field ten minutes later but then “the race imploded.”
“I was happy at the end of the race that someone had seen what I had done. I ended not finishing up the race, because the race finished up on a 2 to 3 mile climb. I’m not really a strong climber as is,” said the up-and-coming sprinter. “I had really no energy when we started that climb, it was really hot I was like, I did one good deed for the day, I had a flat tire, I raced my bike hard, I’m going back to the car.”
He just couldn’t cover attacks from his competitors once he returned to the field. “I got on the front I chased and we couldn’t bring it back. Because of the point spread, I knew that I had lost the overall, I was like, ‘oh there’s no point’, I’m going to get third, even if I win the sprint from the field, I’m going to get third so I went home.” he laughed.
Howe finished third in the omnium.
Hero. Howe was not scared of going over the cliff with Dart, but he was surprised by his ability to pick him up. “I remember thinking to myself this is a lot easier than I thought, I just grabbed one leg and pulled him up. It was a very steep, a washed out section.”
“In my mind, Isaac was a hero. I was in the right place at the right time, big enough and strong enough to help pull him back off. It was pretty scary, when I bent over to grab him, I’m standing as close as to the edge as I can get, and I’m looking straight down, 40 to 50 feet to a dry creek bed.” said Long.
“I wasn’t aware that it was a 50-foot cliff off the edge until after the race. Clearly, I was in a red zone already from climbing and unaware of anything other than what I was doing at that moment, I didn’t really notice that the stakes were so high for this guy, I knew that he needed help for sure, I guess that he didn’t realize that it was life or death.” mused Howe.