Cyclist forgives his attacker

By Laurilee McMichael -
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Eight-time ironman Alasdair Slade, who was pushed off his bike and seriously injured in a road-rage attack near Taupo last year, says he'll never be sufficiently healed to tackle a full ironman event again. Photo/Laurilee McMichael
Eight-time ironman Alasdair Slade, who was pushed off his bike and seriously injured in a road-rage attack near Taupo last year, says he'll never be sufficiently healed to tackle a full ironman event again. Photo/Laurilee McMichael

"Houston, we have a problem".

That was the thought that ran through Alasdair Slade's mind when he saw a ute pull to a stop in front of him.

It was February 25 last year and the Taupo-based ironman was on a bike training session on Broadlands Rd, near Taupo. He had just had a near miss with the ute which had overtaken another vehicle while headed towards Mr Slade. Mr Slade gave the driver the fingers and an angry wave. But the ute turned around, passed him, and stopped. Mr Slade knew that meant trouble.

He was right. Twice the ute stopped and Mr Slade managed to ride around it, but the third time the driver, Mangakino farmer Joseph Arthur Frederick Roberts, 22, meant business. Mr Slade tried to dodge him, but Roberts strong-armed him off his bike, fracturing his collarbone in the process. Mr Slade crashed into the tarmac, still clipped into his pedals, shattering his hip and fracturing his other collarbone.

Last month Roberts was found guilty of injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Slade, and sentenced to two years eight months' jail.

The attack of road rage has been seen as a symptom of the growing tensions between drivers and cyclists, a problem Mr Slade believes is growing worse. At the time he was training for his eighth ironman event, and over the years he's been pushed, spat at, had bottles and rubbish thrown at him and had near misses with vehicles that pass too close or overtake coming towards him. He's even had vehicles intentionally swerve towards him or drive head-on at him to scare him.

Mr Slade, 50, has had three operations and spent months recuperating in a wheelchair and on crutches. He was initially told he might never run again.

It was four months before he was able to return part-time to his job at Tongariro-Rangipo Prison. Mr Slade said his sole focus was on getting better, and with the "tremendous support" of wife Ellen and his five children, he's been working steadily towards that goal.

He's already back to cycling and jogging, but said regretfully he'll probably never do an ironman again - maybe a half ironman event every year or two, if he's lucky. For a man who was in the best shape of his life, it's been both tough and depressing. "I'm frustrated because I missed the [Ironman] race. I'm frustrated because the 10 years of training that I've had up till now is eradicated. I'm annoyed that it impacted on our family and the kids quite significantly."

While Mr Slade said he's glad Roberts was found guilty, and feels the punishment fits the crime, he's worried about how Roberts would cope in prison.

"I've forgiven him [Roberts] ... I don't bear any animosity towards him personally, in fact I have concerns for his situation."

For cyclist safety to improve, drivers' attitudes towards cyclists needed to change, Mr Slade said.

"Drivers will slow down for a dog or a cat or a horse, but a cyclist almost seems to have a target painted on their back.

"There also needs to be heightened awareness of the fact that some cyclists are often going considerably faster than granny on a bike around town. Speeds of up to 50km/h or more are common."

And he has just one more plea to drivers - to remember how they felt when they were young and riding their bike.

"They've forgotten what that feels like, the joy of riding."

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