Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
By Tyler Hamilton, CSC professional cycling team
Sorry for the delay in getting this update out. The last 72 hours have been quite a roller coaster ride. Not surprisingly, there have been some mixed reports about my health and status in this year’s Tour de France, so with a couple of minutes of down time, I’ll try to get my version of all that’s transpired typed out.
I’ve probably talked a thousand times about how hard it is to get ready for a Tour de France. It’s not something you do in a week, or add to your annual list of objectives at the last minute. It really takes the better part of a year to get yourself to the point where you can be bold enough to say you are able to lead a team at the Tour. If you added up every sacrifice, every hour of training and every moment the race is on your mind in an eleven month period, it would be easy to conclude that preparing for the Tour de France can just about take over your life.
But even if you are fortunate to have your lead up to July go just about perfectly, as it did for me this year, there are still a fair amount of things that can change everything. And, unfortunately, many of them are not controllable. You can’t place orders for good weather, or live in a bubble trying to avoid illness. And you can’t always protect yourself when there’s a massive pile up in the peloton.
The first week of the Tour is always fast and nervous. Traditionally, there are a number of crashes throughout the early stages. But not always at the level we encountered in Stage 1. As pile ups go, this was one of the worst I’ve ever been in. I can’t really describe the crash to you; because it happened so fast I didn’t even see or hear it coming. All I knew was I was where I was supposed to be heading into a sprint – behind the guys going for the win, but close enough to the front to stay out of trouble. Normally, if a crash occurs near the finish or the field splits in the final kilometers, the repercussions are the worst for the guys at the back.
But Sunday was fairly unique, because the crash occurred close to the front and spread rapid-fire across the peloton. A rider on my left slid into me and I hit the ground hard with the right side of my back and head. I was able to get right up and continue on to the finish. My teammates stopped and rode in around me. I think I was so stunned I didn’t have time to absorb that I was actually hurt when I got back on my bike. But as soon as I crossed the finish line, I knew there was something wrong with my shoulder. It took a fair amount of mental and physical strength not to panic. This was, after all, only stage 1.
As I crossed the line I found out, that regardless of my condition, my number had been pulled to do a random drug control. So I had to go there immediately after the race ended. I saw Levi Leipheimer on my way to the control. He had also gone down hard, but was probably still feeling the effects of adrenaline when I saw him, because he was more concerned with me and why I was holding my shoulder, than he was for himself.
After the control, I traveled by ambulance to a nearby hospital to have an x-ray. The pain was getting worse, but I was still hoping nothing was broken. They took me right away, and they had the results as soon as I got redressed. I could tell by the look on Bjarne’s face it wasn’t good. Then he made a hand gesture to say the collarbone was broken. I didn’t quite know how to react. It felt like someone had sucked all the air out of the room. There were two fractures to my right collarbone that met at the base of the bone to form a “V”. At that moment, the Tour was over.
On my way out of the hospital I bumped into Levi. He had just been told he had a broken tailbone. I felt like I was walking through a nightmare. There were cyclists all over the place waiting to be examined. I called my wife from the car and gave her the update. I don’t know if we said more than five words. We were both in shock.
I think I was supposed to announce that I was retiring from the race – but neither Bjarne nor I wanted to say those words.
I don’t know when we actually started to think about my continuing on with the race. But by about 8:30 PM Sunday evening, the team had decided to hold a press conference to share my x-rays and confirm the rumor I had broken my collarbone. The funny part was that I think I was supposed to announce that I was retiring from the race – but neither Bjarne nor I wanted to say those words.
Maybe we couldn’t come to grips with the reality of the situation in such a short span of time. Who knows. But I went to bed that night thinking that I would at least try to ride my bike in the morning. For some reason it wasn’t enough for someone to say – it’s time to quit. I had to prove to myself that I couldn’t ride.
I didn’t sleep much during the night. My mind was racing about all that had happened and the pain in my shoulder was pretty bad. Our physiotherapist Ole, spent a large portion of the evening working on me. With my neck, back and collarbone all in rough shape, Ole put in extra hours even through the middle of the night. He sat next to my bed and applied pressure where he could to try and alleviate some of the pain.
When we arrived at the start of Stage 2 there was a mob of cameras and reporters. After one step forward from the bus I was swarmed. And, believe it or not, I took a hit from a camera lens right on my broken collarbone.
Luckily, I was taped up pretty good beneath my jersey, so no additional harm was done. Even Bjarne got knocked above the eye by a camera. It was insane. So before I could go from the bus to sign in, I had to explain exactly what I thought I was doing continuing on in my condition. All we could say was that we were giving it a try. At the time, I didn’t know if I’d make it one kilometer or ten kilometers. We were prepared for the fact that this effort might not fly. My race bag was going to be waiting for me at the feedzone, in the event things weren’t going well.
My teammates never left my side during the stage. We stayed at the back and just took it kilometer by kilometer. Luckily, it wasn’t a super difficult day, since a lot of riders were feeling the effects of the crash. The speeds stayed at a manageable pace for me. But when the race was over I was exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I felt that tired.
Haven and Tugboat drove 1100 kilometers from our home in Spain to the finish in Sedan, but I didn’t get to see them until we arrived at our team hotel. Regardless of how the day unfolded, they wanted to be around when the stage ended.
Stage 3 was a little more difficult for me because there were a lot of accelerations in the peloton. And just like the day before, I stayed toward the back. This got us into a little trouble at one point when crosswind split the peloton into two groups. We had to work pretty hard to get back with the front group. And the extra effort took its toll on me. I was in a lot more pain last night than the night before.
If I had one goal after deciding to stay in the race, you could say it was to make it to the team time trial. There is no telling how long I am going to be able to keep going, but today was a critical day for the team. With Carlos carrying the weight of our GC hopes, we didn’t want him to lose too much time. Everyone put in a good effort, and I was happy to be able to do my part. But it was pretty gritty out there. There may be a few more trips to the dentist in my future after today.
After the stage, I was planning to have another x-ray to see if the fractures are healing properly. But we are staying in a pretty rural area tonight, so the trip back to the hospital will have to wait until tomorrow.
Behind the Scenes – After Stage 1 our mechanics were busy late into the evening gluing tires. Every rider on the team flatted his rear wheel from braking so hard to avoid the crash.
Many thanks to all of you who have been channeling the good vibes my way over the last couple of days. I’m really overwhelmed by all of your emails and notes. I really appreciate the effort you’ve all made to send your support.
Thanks for reading.