The mark of a champion can also be how he deals with adversity. After being punched in the back by a spectactor on the Puy-de-Dôme and dethroned by Bernard Thévenet at the 1975 Tour de France, cycling’s greatest rider had already endured plenty when he crashed, breaking his cheekbone and jaw. Though Merckx’s mouth was wired shut, stopping him from eating solids, he kept testing Thévenet all the way to the finish in Paris.
We thought racing on with a fractured tibia for 20 kilometres before abandoning the 2014 Tour de France was pretty hardcore. Not to be outdone, Contador is still in contention at this year’s Giro d’Italia after a double shoulder dislocation.
When he crashed on a 1920 Tour stage, Barthélémy thought the subsequent dizziness was concussion. No, it transpired a piece of flint had flown into his eye: he could hardly see. No matter; he removed the stone and soldiered on. He crashed later, breaking his wrist and dislocating his shoulder, but it still couldn’t stop him from finishing eighth overall.
The most notorious crash involving a professional cyclist and an oversized promotional can of beverage. And possibly the only one. Two-hundred metres from the end of the 1991 Tour, the Tashkent Terror came to grief in spectacular fashion on the Champs-Elysées barriers. He hauled himself up and crossed the line to claim the points jersey, but eschewed the podium presentation for a hospital stay.
The revelation of the 1983 Tour de France broke his shoulder the day after taking the maillot jaune. Simon soldiered on for a week, tearfully abandoning when the pain got too much. It was the closest he’d ever come to winning his revered national race.
The Welshman was the wounded hero of the 2013 Tour, fracturing his pelvis within hours of the race start. He didn’t just finish the race – defying common sense and the wishes of his mum – but provided key support to winner Chris Froome. “I got through it with paracetamol, the usual stuff,” he says matter-of-factly. Makes us think twice about popping painkillers for a headache.
The “Iron Man” grittily rode on in the 1956 Giro after breaking his collarbone, tying an inner tube to his stem and putting the other end in his teeth for leverage. Days later, he fractured his humerus in another crash, passing out from the pain. Legend has it that when he woke up in the ambulance, he screamed at the driver to stop, got back on his bike and made it back to the bunch, who had politely slowed down. Magni went on to finish the race second overall.
After crashing in a bunch sprint into St-Etienne and breaking his nose at the 1985 Tour de France, Hinault rode to his fifth Tour de France win looking like he’d gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. His smashed Ray Bans did most of the facial damage. That’s the price you pay for looking cool.
Coming down in the same crash that scuppered Bradley Wiggins’ 2011 Tour, the Radioshack man pedalled 40 kilometres with broken ribs and heavy concussion to the finish in Châteauroux. After crossing the line, Horner had no idea where he was or what he was doing there.
A heavy faller in a pile-up on day one of the 2003 Tour de France, the journeyman French sprinter won plenty of plaudits for bravely fighting through the first week at the rear of the race in a bulbous neck brace before the pain got too much.