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Governor Saved by Helmet

It was cool in the Shenandoah Valley on Monday morning, so the governor of Virginia decided to push his bicycle a few extra miles through the thick tree canopy along the Maury River.

By Chris L. Jenkins Washington Post Staff Writer

RICHMOND, June 27 -- Next thing he knew, Mark R. Warner had tumbled off his racer in the town of Goshen. He had tried to stop as he approached railroad tracks. But with a water bottle in one hand, he could not operate both hand brakes to stop.

When he pressed only the front brakes, the bike flipped forward. Warner broke two bones in his right hand and was bruised and scratched as well, said Ellen Qualls, his director of communications.

Warner, who had joined about 2,000 other cyclists a few hours earlier for the 18th riding of the Bike Virginia Valley Byways Tour, went first to a hospital in Lexington and then returned to Richmond for surgery.

In a two-hour operation at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital, two pins were inserted into the hand, according to Kevin Hall, a spokesman for the governor.

Warner was to be kept overnight for observation and could be discharged by Tuesday morning, Hall said. He said he expects that Warner will be unable to write or to shake hands, an act widely regarded as essential in politics.

Warner, 50, estimated that he was flung forward six to eight feet, Qualls said. A witness said Warner, who wore a helmet, seemed unfazed by the tumble.

"It was pretty impressive how he recovered. . . . I was in total shock when it was happening," said Allen Turnbull, director of Bike Virginia, which organizes the annual ride. The event takes cyclists from around the world on a 300-mile loop through the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley over several days.

"He just rolled right out of it and got right up," Turnbull said.

Warner (D) was originally supposed to ride just a 17-mile stretch from Wade's Mill -- a water-powered 18th-century grist mill that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- to Rockbridge Baths, eight miles from Lexington. But Qualls said he was feeling so good about the ride that he pressed on and was on mile 24 when he flipped.

"He had left the regular course and gone farther, which displays a certain level of hardheadedness," she said. His "hardheadedness turned out to be fortuitous," she added.

The governor is an avid biker, hiker and mountain climber, Qualls said. She pointed out that this was his second outdoors accident in two years: Last year, Warner hit his head while whitewater rafting.

Around Richmond, he does public service announcements promoting jogging and other exercise. But Qualls said this latest mishap may present another lesson.

"He's an experienced cyclist, and he knows better than to hold water bottles when there might be a need to brake," she said. "It's a lesson in bike safety and an ad for bike helmets."

Staff writer Martin Weil contributed to this report.

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