An elite St. Louis cyclist who was known for his work ethic and commitment to the tenets of Boy Scouts died in a crash during a bicycle race Sunday in Kansas City, Mo., stunning members of the cycling community.
Casey Saunders, 30, died when he crashed into a metal barrier during the Criterium portion of the Tour of Kansas City race in the Crossroads area of the city. The Criterium consists of sharp turns on city streets over a course that is less than a mile in length. Witnesses told the Kansas City Star that Saunders crashed into a barrier on 18th Street, just before a sharp turn north onto Oak Street. Although the cause of the crash is uncertain, one witness told the Star that “it was shocking.”
Mark Thomas, who promotes races in the area, was on the stage to present awards when the accident occurred. “It’s not my racecourse, but I thought it was a safe venue,” he told Velonews.com. “Fast, pretty flat, good security. I think the race director did a great job with it.”
The Tour of KC is a 54-year-old race, and this marked the third year using an eight-corner criterium course. Other cyclists recalled that Saunders didn’t take chances, which made Saunders’s crash and death all the more surprising.
John Merli, his coach on the Dogfish Racing team, said Saunders’s family was left wondering, “Why Casey?” because he was, Merli said, one of the “most aware, safest racers.” An Eagle Scout who played jazz piano and rode a beat-up bicycle to his job at St. Louis’ Big Shark Bicycle Co., Saunders would swap it for a racing model on weekends and became known for his finishing sprints. “He was what we call an honest racer,” he said. “He was tenacious but humble.”
Scott Ogilvie, a team partner, praised him as a cyclist who was always placing safety first and described him as “frugal, friendly and understated.”
“In an environment that could be coarse and vulgar,” Ogilvie wrote, “Casey was very much, in a quiet way, a gentleman. No one disliked Casey, customer or co-worker. He was kind, reliable, responsible, and friendly. It was the same way when he was racing, he didn’t have any ego. He loved to compete, but he was happy for whoever won.”
Mike Weiss, the owner of the Big Shark shop where Saunders was a mechanic, said that even his rivals liked him, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that one customer who raced against Saunders told him he was surprised at how friendly Saunders was. “He just had a way of being consistently nice to everybody. He was never mad. He was never negative. He was the kind of person who was happy for other people when they succeeded.”