For a sport that requires such unmanly kit, cycling doesn’t half produce tough guys. Geraint Thomas, the British rider supporting Chris Froome in Team Sky, came down in a huge pile-up in Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour de France. Scans later revealed a fractured pelvis, which ought to be grounds for withdrawal to a sofa. But not for Thomas, who defied the pleas of his mother to be lifted on to his bike on Sunday and today, when he put in strong turns in the team time trial.
The German rider Tony Martin came down in the same crash and lost consciousness on the way to hospital after finishing. He suffered concussion, a contusion on his left lung, bruising and a deep cut to his left elbow. Yet he, too, rode the next morning and helped Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team finish second today, one place ahead of Team Sky.
The annals of cycling bleed profusely with tales of triumph over pain. Can the barrier be higher in any other sport? Would Andy Murray take to Centre Court a day after receiving 33 stitches? That was the fate that befell Johnny Hoogerland, who looked as if he had been attacked by a leopard after tumbling into a barbed wire fence in a crash with a TV car during the 2011 Tour. The Dutch rider painted the road red for the rest of that day but continued the next morning after being sewn up by team doctors.
In 2010, Tyler Farrar rode for 10 stages after breaking his wrist in a crash before finally admitting defeat and pulling out. Tyler Hamilton, the rider who last year blew the whistle on Lance Armstrong, finished second in the 2002 Giro D’Italia with a fractured shoulder. The following year, he cracked a collarbone in the first stage of the Tour de France but cycled on for three weeks, winning stage 16 with a solo breakaway and finishing fourth overall.
Why do they do it? Because pain is part of cycling even without the crashes. Riders must almost enjoy it to make as pros. More than that, the world’s greatest race is not one any rider will quit lightly, if they can possibly grin and bear it.
Watch video of Johnny Hoogerland's crash in the Tour De France 2011: