Watching the carnage of the first week of the 2012 Tour de France, you can’t help but think how fortunate the team was at the 2011 Tour. While Ryder Hesjedal suffered a terrible crash during stage one, during last year’s first eight stages the team largely kept the rubber side down. They also carried the yellow jersey for seven glorious days.
This year, of course, has been the opposite, with crashes forcing lead-out-man Robbie Hunter to abandon along with GC contenders Hesjedal and Tom Danielson. Smack downs with the European pavement seriously compromised both health and GC potential for the rest of the squad as well. “We are down to six,” Vaughters said. “We have just got to soldier on.”
But crashing is bike racing, and last year that was especially apparent at September’s Tour of Spain. There, the team lost both Brazilian Murilo Fischer and Tyler Farrar to crashes during the first week. In a freak accident on a wide, flat road, Frenchman Christophe Le Mével also went down so hard he at first thought he broke his hip.
This photo shows Johan Vansummeren during Vuelta stage 15 on the Angliru, a vicious climb in the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. The blood on his fingers, arm, and leg are traces of an earlier run in with a sharp bit of Europe’s infamous road furniture–traffic-calming devices placed in roads to slow cars.
You will have to read Argyle Armada to get the gory details, but consider that in addition to getting stitches in two parts of his body after the stage, injuries forced the Belgian to ride the stage with a bag of ice down his shorts. The 6’5″, 167-pound Vansummeren also resisted the race and team doctors’ strong recommendation that he finish the stage in an ambulance, not on a bike.
During another Vuelta stage, Sep Vanmarcke got tangled up with another falling rider and flew over a guard rail on a steep mountain descent. After launching 40 meters into a ravine, the young Belgian hit a tree and crashed to a halt in underbrush just meters from a river. The caravan didn’t see the crash, and Vanmarcke had to drag himself up out of the woods before word filtered out to the team car to come back and assist him.
Traumatized, Vanmarcke got back on his bike and rode to the finish. “At that moment you just realize what you survived. I was totally mentally broken. I started crying for two hours. I couldn’t stop. I had no power. I was shocked.”
Jonathan Vaughters recently argued that, considering the grave risks inherent to pro cycling, the minimum rider salaries should be twice what they are today. That’s part of his larger vision for a reformed sport. Getting compensation more in line with the hazardous nature of the pro cycling hasn’t happened yet, but both the 2011 Vuelta and the first week of the 2012 Tour suggest their may be some merit to the Slipstream boss’s wish.
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