Nine times out of ten, if you hit a bidon with a bike, it will explode. The top comes off and the bottle ricochets off.
In Lawson Craddock’s case on stage one, I don’t know the exact dynamic, maybe he tried to take avoiding action, but he basically lost his balance and careered off the road. In any other race, that’d mean he’d fall in a ditch and get up. But this is the Tour and there’s a tonne of people here.
Like a lot of things in cycling: it’s kind of amazing that these incidents don’t actually happen more often. The feed zone is one of the most dangerous parts of the race. So much so that Rigoberto Uran won’t usually grab a bag himself at the Tour. Either a team mate will take two or someone will come and get his food from the car. We remove that extra risk.
Amidst the chaos, it took quite a while for them to announce on race radio what had happened. But we found Lawson there and he had a bloody face. It was pretty hard to work out what was wrong with him. If you’ve ever had a nose bleed or a cut on your face, you know how it adds to the panic. You see the blood on your hands and feel it on your face, but you can’t see what’s wrong. That didn’t really help.
Nonetheless he got going again and he was working his way back towards the front of the convoy. We could see pretty quickly he was struggling with his shoulder and was obviously in a lot of pain. So the race doctor looked at it and tried to investigate but they couldn’t tell whether his shoulder was broken or not. But they felt that if he was ok to hold and pull the bars then it probably wasn’t broken. But we didn’t have that guarantee.
One of my main concerns was protecting Lawson from his own determination. The riders are so hard and focussed on achieving the goals that they set for themselves, they don’t always see things straight. I didn’t have a great deal of facts to go on, so I tried to impress on him that if he felt ok riding his bike, and he was safe and wasn’t a danger to anybody else, then it was ok to go on and we’d support him. But I said it was also ok to stop if he felt he couldn’t hold the bars properly or brake.
If he was to continue in the race, the next job was for him to make it back into the peloton because it was going to go quicker again soon. He managed that and we got some of his team mates to spend some time with him at the back of the peloton to get him through it. From there we just calculated what was the earliest point he could let the peloton go without being eliminated.
We figured he had about 21 minutes to play with. So, if the peloton did 50kmh in the last hour, he’d have to do 35. But we asked him to aim to stay with the bunch till the 18 kilometre mark where the race would turn into the wind and get more aggressive. I think it’s nice for a rider in a situation like that to have something to aim for rather than just the finish line. Of course, once we did get to the finish we had his injuries looked at and found out exactly what was wrong.
There’s basically two races in the season that riders want to finish at all costs: Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France. The unique attention this race gets magnifies everything. The good and the bad. The riders show exceptional resilience throughout the season because these type of injuries occur all the time and invariably the first thing they do is jump up and ask for their bike. But this is the Tour. And if Lawson did this at Paris-Nice, no one would care.
There’s injuries and there’s injuries. Lawson’s shoulder is fractured, not broken. Being on the bike can’t make it worse. We’ve seen riders in the past get through the whole Tour carrying fractures and I think in such cases we hit the balance between listening to the rider and following his mindset – since Lawson crashed he’s been so engaged in going forward – and the doctors.
On our team, a rider’s health is of paramount importance. It’s a great thing that we have doctors in our team who are totally independent from the whole performance element who can and will step in and say when it’s not suitable for an athlete to continue.
They know what cyclists do and what cycling is, but their primary job is to safeguard in an independent way a rider’s health. We’ve seen this, for example, with our concussion protocol. If a rider has a concussion and the test they put him through demonstrates that’s the case, then he’s benched until he’s passed the test. It’s absolutely crystal clear that there’s no amount of stamping my feet I can do that will allow me to race that rider ahead of time.
But for the moment Lawson’s doing an admirable job, his determination is pretty remarkable. How the rest of the race goes for him we’ll have to see. The first day after the crash, you could say that was maybe a bit of adrenelin that got him through. He probably wasn’t looking any further down the line. But the performance he put in in the team time trial was pretty remarkable. We spent some time in the morning thinking about the wind and time limits again, but he far exceeded those objectives and actually made a pretty meaningful contribution to the pace.
He may still have some tough days ahead, often a few days after these type of accidents are the hardest. The pain changes over time – not always for the better. But I’m optimistic. Since his crash we’ve seen the first two withdrawals in the Tour. On paper he should have been the first.