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The Winner Of The Cycling World Championships Is: Birds

WOLLOGONG, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Detailed view of birds perched on a railing during the 95th UCI Road World Championships 2022 - Men U23 Individual Time Trial a 28,8km / #Wollongong2022 / on September 19, 2022 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

UCI Worlds are currently being contested in Wollongong, a city in New South Wales nominally under the jurisdiction of the Australian state. But that's merely a political fiction; the city is clearly governed by an avian junta. And they are extracting their blood price. Let us consider the evidence.

Exhibit A: This trespass warning that local magpies forced their sapient subjects to print.

Exhibit B: Grace Brown, women's time trial silver medalist and native Australian, confirmed that locals get no special treatment from the birds. "I've been swooped twice already since being here," she told the Guardian. "So it's not just the international athletes that are worried about it. I get pretty scared by magpies."

Exhibit C: Testimony from Remco Evenepoel ("A fairly large bird came very close and it just kept following me. It was terrifying. But that's Australia, apparently"), Stefan Küng ("Yeah, one of our guys has been attacked already by a magpie"), and a grim statistic: a cyclist died in 2019 after hitting a pole while swerving to avoid a magppie.

Exhibit D: Bauke Mollema has video of an attack by a magpie that occurred during a training ride.

Exhibit E: He was also attacked (?) by a gull during the time trial.

Exhibit F (Science Exhibit): Magpies are not small birds, with wingspans between two and three feet, and they are extremely territorial, hence the swooping. An estimated nine percent of the large Australian magpie population becomes violently aggressive during the spring mating season, which is right now. As chicks hatch and grow, their parents become ornery sentinels, dive-bombing people, dogs, cyclists, and anything else that looks like a threat. A cyclist moving at speed is a prime target for swooping, as any bird worth a shit would see them as both an obvious threat and an easier target to pester than a car.

Magpies are some of the smartest birds in the world; they have sophisticated language skills, hold funerals, can remember up to 30 human faces for decades, and can even match wits with human ornithologists. A 2022 study published in Australian Field Ornithology revealed that several magpies fitted with precision-made harnesses easily outwitted their captors and collaborated to free each other from the shackles of science. The researchers chose to abandon their original study to look into exactly how smart magpies are. "If you think it’s personal, you’re right," Sean Dooley, public affairs manager of Birdlife Australia, said of swooping attacks. "People who resemble 10-year-old boys are much more likely to be swooped, because those are the kids who are more likely to be throwing sticks and stones, shouting and chasing and running at magpies."

The only solution is this goofy-looking helmet, which only sort of works.

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