Tour de France: Andrew Talansky's Stage 11 and five other tortuous rides that defied the pain barrier
By the laws of good sense, by the simple rules of humanity, Andrew Talansky should have abandoned the 2014 Tour de France midway through Stage 11.
Suffering from the after-effects of multiple crashes, the American had been distanced not only by the peloton but his own team-mates.
Presuming their leader to be a dead man walking, the riders of Garmin-Sharp delivered the ultimate intra-team insult, working at the front of the race to push the pace, thus making Talansky’s chances of finishing inside the time limit even slighter.
But cyclists - particularly the professional species - are an unhinged breed, reared to continue in the face of the most unspeakable pain.
So Talansky refused to accept the metaphorical death of climbing into the ‘broom wagon’, the vehicle that trails the peloton like a four-wheeled Grim reaper, picking up the weak, the sick and the weary and removing them from the race.
He finished, in the tortuous end - over 32 minutes behind the rest of the field. In Talansky’s honour, here are five other Tour de France riders who made a mockery of the concept of the pain barrier.
Many years before he testified against Lance Armstrong and became renowned for the less salubrious details of his career, Tyler Hamilton’s name was synonymous with an effort that crossed over into insanity.
On the second day of the 2003 Tour de France, the American suffered a broken collarbone- an injury normally severe enough to put a full stop on a rider’s participation in a race.
Not Hamilton, however, who refused to unfurl the white flag. But the Team CSC leader was not content with simply surviving. Seventeen days later he rode solo through the Pyrenees to capture Stage 16 by over two minutes- almost unbelievable given the state of his injuries.
Hamilton revealed later that such was the pain of pushing through the double fracture, he had ground his teeth down to their nerves.
For sheer bad luck multiplied by even sheerer courage, Johnny Hoogerland takes some beating. The Dutchman was well-placed in a breakaway towards the end of Stage 9 of the 2011 Tour when a France 2 TV car swerved into him and Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha.
The result was horrific: Hoogerland was thrown head over wheels into a barbed-wire fence and suffered deep lacerations.
Yet somehow he remounted and finished the stage, sixteen minutes behind the day’s winner Samuel Sanchez- and despite needing dozens of stitches, he completed the Tour, too.
Two years on, Hoogerland was to suffer an even more serious fate. He was knocked off his bike while training and suffered a bruised liver and internal bleeding- a wholly unjust fate for one of the Tour’s most memorably, insanely brave riders.
The key to Miguel Indurain’s five consecutive Tour de France victories lay with the fact that the gentle-eyed Spaniard simply never suffered bad days.
When his decline eventually came it was shocking in its suddenness: Indurain blew completely on the climb to Les Arcs in the 1996 Tour, and almost seemed to be travelling backwards as his competitors sped by.
Indurain wasn’t injured- nor, if his words to Gary Imlach post-stage are to be believed, was he suffering particularly badly. But it takes a special kind of courage for a once-great champion to continue in the race that brought him glory, in full knowledge that his powers have gone. For this alone, Indurain deserves his place amongst the pantheon of the toughest of the tough.
The Uzbek sprinter was known for causing carnage in the bunch finishes- but his destruction was usually of the sadistic rather than the masochistic kind.
But at the finish to the 1991 Tour on the Champs-Élysées, Abdoujaparov had his most spectacular crash of a spectacularly error-strewn career- and hurt only himself.
As the sprint reached its climax, he cannonballed into the roadside barriers and was flung up into the air- but recovered to remount and cross the line unaided. Mad, bad, but unquestionably hard and courageous.
The Welshman came into the 2013 Tour de France as one of Chris Froome’s key support riders- and ended it hanging grimly on to the thin end of the pain wedge.
Thomas fell during the first stage in Corsica- and only found out a day later that he had broken his pelvis.
Through a combination of Team Sky’s weakness and his own bloody-mindedness, Thomas carried on in the race.
“The guys in the hospital said it definitely wasn’t going to get worse from riding; it was just whether I could put up with the pain. That was encouraging. I definitely didn’t want to stop,” he later said.
That is the admirable- and foolhardy- code by which professional cyclists live. And it’s the lineage to which brave Andrew Talansky belongs.
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