I’ve been watching the first few stages of the Tour de France. One of the first dramatic storylines is Lawson Craddock, the Houston, Texas kid riding his first Tour. During a stage of the race, he was unfortunate to strike a full water bottle that fell on the road. At 45km per hour he had no chance to swerve or stop within the peloton. He wound up with a broken face and a fractured scapula (shoulder blade.)
The last person I met with a fractured shoulder blade was a female triathlete from Madison, Wisconsin. She was a top grade athlete and she was also out of action for six weeks while the injury healed.
Toughing it out
Craddock finished the stage in which he crashed, a long ride to finish off a likely 200km of riding that day. Then he healed up the best he could overnight and got up the next morning to ride “on the rollers” as fellow cyclist Taylor Phinney explained in a rolling interview later that day. That means Craddock rode on metal rollers to see what his body could handle.
If you’ve ever crashed a bike, you know that the stiffness and pain can be quite constricting the morning after the accident. I’ve had the joy of crashing several times at fairly high rates of speed (once at 40 mph and one at 20mph) with painful results.
The day after the 40 mph crash I went for a two-mile walk because I knew that I’d be stiff and sore beyond measure without exercise and movement of some sort. There was Vicodin in my system and it was a bit funky walking with my arm in a sling. Upon return to the campsite where we were staying, friends accused me of being nuts for going on a hike.
I know my body pretty well after decades of competitive sports. The stiffness that comes about as a result of a high-speed crash is far worse if you don’t move your body. But that walk I took is a far different enterprise than getting back on your bike to ride a competitive Tour de France stage in which you have to stay in touch with the peloton or get dropped from the race. That’s what Lawson Craddock did the next day.
Before the stage began, a television interviewer talked with Craddock. Midway through the interview, the young man convulsed in frustrated tears. These were not tears of weakness, but of strength. He said something on the order of this: “I’ve trained so hard and long for this race. I don’t want to quit.”
There’s the word we all hate to hear ourselves say. Quit.
Craddock reportedly had a rough year last year as a pro cyclist. This year he has ridden well enough to qualify for a Tour spot. That’s a major accomplishment on its own. The Tour cut teams down from nine riders to eight. The pressure is immense on riders as it is.
Then to add major injury to the list of obstacles is a hard slap in the face. Yet there was Craddock, wiping a flat tear from the cheekbone opposite the fracture and the long wounds above his left eye. I sat there on the couch looking at that young man and said, “That’s one tough kid.”
He’s in his early 20s. It takes years of riding to actually become competitive in a race the level of the Tour de France. Even the best riders in the world crash during the Tour. Multiple Tour winner Chris Froome even slid off the road during the first stage and bounced into a ditch. He got back on his bike in eight seconds but did wind up losing nearly a minute that day.
Then his mates pulled him through to a fast time in the team time trial and the favorite was right back in it.
Admiration for Lance
Craddock admires and has ridden with Lance Armstrong and still considers the 7-time Tour winner the best cyclist who ever lived. Craddock rides in an era when doping controls are strict and insists there is very little chance of anyone doping anymore. I saw the kid a first time in some stage race a couple weeks ago. He’d soared into the lead and I went, “Who’s that?” Turns out he’s among the Who’s Who in upcoming Americans.
And like Lance, it’s not the doping that makes a rider great. It’s being tough as heck in all kinds of circumstances. Decades ago I found inspiration to begin cycling by watching a young kid from Texas wow the world when Lance Armstrong fought back from cancer to win the Tour. And again. And again.
I don’t think doping made the possible. It only made it slightly more probable. The rest of was hard work, and lots of it.
Granted, Lance did some bad things to some good people. Don’t we all. But he also did some badass things that the average person cannot imagine. Pain. Suffering. Toughing it out. Willing yourself not to quit even when injured, sick or seemingly out of gas.
In Lawson Craddock, I think there is some of the Lance we admired that wasn’t about the cheating or the doping. Toughness is a required commodity in cycling, and this kid Lawson Craddock seems to have an ample share of that.