A broken collarbone seems harmless enough when you’re watching the Tour on TV and it’s reported over the airwaves after the peloton has folded into a heap and the casualties have been fully assessed. It never sounds so bad, be back on your bike in no time… Well, that’s what I always thought.
The first I remember watching was during the Tour of 1987.
Sean Kelly is a tough guy, I trust you’ll agree. Jeff Connor’s description of the Irishman, in the excellent book Wide Eyed and Legless, had him down to a tee, especially when receiving short shrift when asking him for an interview. Connor wrote: “Kelly said nothing, climbed slowly off the car bonnet (where he had been sitting) and on to his bike, pulled his gloves on tighter and, without even looking at me, rode slowly away.”
Kelly was a mean rider too. The over-used expression ‘he let his legs do the talking’ perfectly described the taciturn man from Tipperary. Kelly was a class apart. One day, however, all this fell apart.
On stage 12 of the 1987 Tour de France he broke his collarbone, and although he tried to remount his bike and continue (at one stage riding off in the wrong direction), he eventually succumbed to the pain and collapsed into the arms of his DS in floods of tears. It can’t be the pain, I thought: Kelly’s too tough. I reasoned that perhaps he was just realising his chance for that year’s green jersey was over.
To say this was moving was an understatement. Kelly was stripped bare for all to see and he just wept. We stared at the TV with our mouths wide open. Kelly was crying. It was like seeing your dad upset when you were a kid, or watching Ring of Bright Water for the first time (it’s a film about otters… a really sad one… no? Just me then). We were all close to tears for him ourselves and it was a defining moment in the history of cycling. We all remember where we were the day Kelly cried…
Tyler Hamilton suffered the same bone break at the Tour a few decades on. Whatever he got up to behind the scenes, I can’t comprehend what Hamilton managed to put himself through to continue the 2003 Tour and even win a stage. For such a ‘nice looking boy’, it seems that he had a love of the pain. He loved it so much that when he had carried on riding in the previous year’s Giro (with a broken shoulder, eventually finishing second overall) he managed to grind his teeth so hard to mask the pain that he allegedly had to have 11 of them capped or replaced after the race. Ouch.
And then there was Fiorenzo Magni. I can’t imagine that Magni ever cried. He looked like he was made from granite or iron – Signor Magni’s made of different stuff to you or I. But he had his fair share of crashes and the 1956 Giro is still the stuff of legend. After crashing and breaking his left collarbone, not only did he climb out of the ambulance and refuse to go to hospital so he could finish the stage, but he also crashed again a few days later and fainted with the pain. Then his mechanic (incidentally, Faliero Masi, who Magni rated “the best bicycle mechanic ever”‚ and his bike brand is the subject of a feature in issue 25) tied an inner tube to his handlebars that he could pull on with his teeth when he climbed. Tough? We don’t know the meaning of the word.
“The day after the end of the Giro I went to an institute that specialised in bone injuries,” Magni explained later. “They said I had two fractures – I thought I had only one – and forced me to put a plaster cast on. The next day I went to my machine shop and asked my mechanic to cut the plaster cast away with the special scissors he used for sheet metal. This way I could start training again. Well, my shoulder is a little crooked now, but that’s that.”
Please don’t try this at home.
As for recent collarbones, Bradley Wiggins suffered the cyclist’s badge of honour in this year’s Tour and it was clear the minute the cameras revealed him from under a heap of riders what his injury was. Bradley put a brave face on it that’s for sure. I don’t know if he cried (I doubt it), but his teammates all stopped, threw their own races out of loyalty to the team leader and, however tactically stupid this may sound in retrospect, I can now fully appreciate their concern.
You see the reason why I’m wibbling on about busted clavicles is that I recently did mine too. Not in a race, not even falling off. I was car-doored, hardly a race situation, but the result was the same, and despite my earlier thinking that it’s ‘just a collar bone’, the classic cyclist’s injury seems to be perfectly fitting to a sport that hurts like hell. And yes I cried. Not for the fact that there was a peloton fast disappearing into the distance, or that the rest of my season was in doubt. I cried because it hurt like hell.