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    Racing

    The Race Doctor

    Meet Andrew Meilak, the Tour of Britain race doctor who has raced against some of his patients
    Words
    Andy McGrath
    Photographs
    David Blanks

Andrew Meilak's heart sunk when he woke up to a howling gale and lashing rain in Peebles this morning.

"You know it's going to be a busy day... we hope not. We always hope to be bored in the car, we don't wish accidents on any of our colleagues."

Even into his fourth year as Tour of Britain race doctor, hanging out of an Audi coupe patching up cyclists at 30mph is a world away from his day job as a GP at a rural practice in Sussex. They don't teach that at medical school.

He rides second in the convoy behind the chief commissaire, a first medical port of call. "The trickiest thing is making very quick decisions: whether you get back in the car and get back up to the race. You catch up on the go as well," he says.

Few race doctors can say they have raced against their patients either. "I was in a road race with Alex Dowsett [years ago]. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the same group as him though: he was incredibly young then, but you could already see his potential." A long-time handy first-cat road racer, Meilak has recently turned to time-trialling, clocking 20.26 over 10 miles earlier this year. He has even brought a folding bike along for the Tour of Britain to keep his legs ticking over.

The bicycle race is like a dysfunctional family, people from vastly different walks of life  brought together by one shared, shining passion. His own cycling prowess can only be better for his understanding of the thought processes of the bunch. "I think that helps me to offer a bespoke medical care for the cyclist. I know what they need and expect."

Having specialised in sport medicine, he has also worked at Millwall FC and rugby clubs. There's no doubting which breed of sportsman is tougher. "There are riders with injuries that, I must say, a footballer wouldn’t carry on with. Some of them ride on when you can see their bones, their elbows, through the skin. They’re really stoic, I must say."

The medical item he uses most in the race is iodine disinfectant spray, to clean wounds on the go. His work doesn't stop when riders cross the finish line. Meilak can be suturing and tending to wounds into the evening, usually for those squads who haven't brought a medic along. He is responsible for the care of race staff too.

The most serious incident Meilak has encountered as race doctor was IG-Sigma Sport rider Wouter Sybrandy's crash on the descent of Leith Hill in last year's closing stage. The Dutchman broke several vertebrae and fractured his cheek bone and eye socket.

"My paramedic colleagues were excellent, they stabilised him and took him off to hospital care, where he subsequently made a fantastic recovery and is now back racing." He admits to initial fright at the Dutchman's prone state. "A little bit of adrenaline helps to sharpen you up. You need to concentrate on the basics that are drilled into you in training. But we’re not machines, we do have emotions.

"I didn’t sleep that night either, worrying about him, again because I’m not a machine. I worry about my patients, that is my job."

Happily, his concerns about the opening stage's potential for chaos failed to materialise. As the wind kept the bunch packed tight together, it was a relatively quiet first day for Meilak.

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09/17/2013 - 14:44

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