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Tour de France

Tuft as nails: Peloton’s toughest man saved by water bottles

Svein Tuft is among the toughest riders in the peloton, but a few plastic water bottles helped him avoid serious injury earlier this season.

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FOUGERES, France (VN) — It takes a lot to stop Svein Tuft in his tracks. The Canadian’s survival skills are infamous. Before turning pro, Tuft spent winters camping alone in the Canadian Rockies, once using cooking utensils to fend off wolves that were attacking his campsite.

So when the Orica-GreenEdge rider did not start the Giro d’Italia this season, there had to be a very good reason why. A heavy crash at the Tour de Romandie in early May sidelined him for weeks.

And it turns out that plastic water bottles might have saved the life of one of the toughest guys in the peloton.

“I was bringing up bottles, but those bottles saved me,” Tuft recounted to VeloNews. “I had six bottles on the front of my jersey, and the road came in, and before I knew it, I was straight up on the curb, and then I hit the guardrail. That’s when I smacked my chest. There is a pole that supports the rail, and it stuck up higher, and that’s what I hit my chest on. I was quite lucky there.”

Tuft, 38, shook his head at the memory. That high-impact crash resulted in the first broken bones of Tuft’s 14-year pro racing career, a remarkable testament to his durability, bike-handling skills, and luck inside the peloton.

“I broke my sternum and wrist,” Tuft continued. “Sometimes, you crash, you get up, sure, you hurt, but you know nothing’s broken. That was the first time I’ve ever broken anything.”

After missing the Giro, where he wore the pink jersey in the opening day in Belfast last year, Tuft recovered in time to line up for his third-career Tour de France. He retreated to his European base, high in the Pyrénées, in Andorra. “That’s the kind of place I like to be. I open the door to my house, and the mountains are right there,” he said. Like many in the Tour peloton, Tuft already has a few bandages, including a tumble in stage 5.

“It’s been the craziest opening week of any grand tour I’ve ever done,” said Tuft, who’s started eight grand tours. “Crashes just seem to happen everywhere.”

Wind, rain, narrow roads, and a nervous peloton add up to crashes, but Tuft said this Tour is worse than normal.

“Every day, it’s so stressful out there. It seems like we cannot ride on a straight road anymore,” Tuft said. “Sometimes you question why the GC teams are riding so much on the front, especially when it’s a classics-type stage, but then you ‘get it’ when you see all the stuff happening in the bunch. They’re expending energy, but they’re not breaking bones.”

In 2013, at 36, Tuft became the oldest Tour rookie in modern history, and has since started every Tour since. After an atypical road to cycling, Tuft has become one of the most durable and consistent riders in the pack. He works tirelessly and unselfishly for his teammates. Chasing water bottles when he crashed at Romandie is just one day in the life of one of the peloton’s most resilient domestiques.

This year, Tuft was tapped to help the team hunt stages, and provide a motor for the team time trial.

Crashes have taken the wind out of Orica-GreenEdge’s collective sails, however, and the team is evolving its goals. It lost Simon Gerrans, Daryl Impey, and Michael Albasini to injuries, and Michael Matthews is among the walking wounded. It could end up like the 2014 Giro, when Tuft and Michael Hepburn were the only riders who made it all the way to Milano.

“We’re down three, so it’s something that we just have to take in stride,” he said. “We had a lot of big ambitions, but the beauty thing is that we will shift our focus to the Yates brothers. It’s all about looking after the young fellas.”

For Tuft, who once rode his bike from Canada to a team training camp in California and fought in mixed-martial arts bouts, racing through a grand tour doesn’t seem that hard at all.