Whilst professional cyclists have almost other-worldly bike-handling skills, crashes are an inevitable feature of their job. What we have seen from watching the Tour de France over the years is just how tough our heros can be.
The classic cyclists’ injury is the broken collarbone, the result of the instinctive urge to stretch out an arm to break a fall. The tell tale sign when a cyclist has broken a collar bone is seeing them with their arm folded across their chest and supporting it with their other hand. Tony Martin’s Tour came to an abrupt end this year when he fractured his collar bone after crashing on Stage 6. Bradley Wiggins was also forced to quit the 2011 Tour for the same injury.
When a crash occurs the pro cyclists’ instinctive reaction, is to always get back on the bike as quickly as they can. They can then assess the damage whilst riding, sometimes getting patched up by a team doctor as they ride alongside one of the team cars.
When the Dutch rider Johnny Hoogerland was catapulted into a barbed wire fence at high speed after another rider was clipped by a TV car on the 2011 Tour, instead of sitting at the side of the road howling in pain and waiting for an ambulance (as most of us would!) he jumped back on his bike and finished the stage. He had lacerated his legs and buttocks (see picture below) and required 33 stitches. He took the King of the Mountains jersey in that stage, and went on to finish the Tour.
Last week Fabian Cancellara crashed heavily amid a pile up on the Tour de France peloton. CT scans later showed the Swiss cyclist had fractured two vertebrae and had to withdraw from the race – but not before he had finished the last 30 miles of the stage. Not many of us would ride 50 km with a broken back!
In the 2013 Tour de France Geraint Thomas rode for a few days with a fractured pelvis, after a crash on the opening stage. Geraint had to be lifted on to his bike the next day as he couldn’t get on it by himself. You can only imagine the pain he went through as when you are pedalling your bike, all your power comes from your hips.
One of the most remembered feats of suffering pain was by Tyler Hamilton. In the 2002 Giro D’Italia he crashed off his bike and fractured his shoulder. He continued on with the race and eventually took 2nd overall. But not before he had ground down his teeth so much from the pain he suffered, that he has to have 11 of them capped or replaced when he finished.
So it goes without saying that Pro cyclists know how to deal with pain way beyond the average person. The top cyclists are the ones that can shut their minds off to the pain of injuries, climbing mountains, or just having sat on their bike for 3000km. It’s a brutal sport, where only the toughest minds will survive.