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Coach Carmichael: Give that man a medal… and some pain killers

It is pretty difficult to look like a tough guy wearing skin-tight Lycra and clicking around in carbon fiber shoes, but Stage 2 of the 2003 Tour de France should prove to anyone that professional cyclists are some of the toughest competitors in the world. And, right now, the winner of cycling’s Tough Guy Contest has to be Tyler Hamilton, for riding a 204.5-kilometer Tour de France stage with a cracked collarbone. Collarbone injuries don’t necessarily inhibit your ability to pedal a bicycle, and many cyclists continue to ride on indoor trainers during their recoveries. Your ability to ride a

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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems

It is pretty difficult to look like a tough guy wearing skin-tight Lycra and clicking around in carbon fiber shoes, but Stage 2 of the 2003 Tour de France should prove to anyone that professional cyclists are some of the toughest competitors in the world. And, right now, the winner of cycling’s Tough Guy Contest has to be Tyler Hamilton, for riding a 204.5-kilometer Tour de France stage with a cracked collarbone.

Collarbone injuries don’t necessarily inhibit your ability to pedal a bicycle, and many cyclists continue to ride on indoor trainers during their recoveries. Your ability to ride a bicycle outdoors, however, is very seriously affected by a collarbone injury. Potholes, bumps and road vibrations send waves of pain through your shoulder and body, and getting out of the saddle is nearly impossible. Tyler’s collarbone is cracked, but not broken into two separate pieces, so he can still use his left arm to control the bike. It is undoubtedly very painful and Bjarne Riis was probably correct in advising his CSC team leader not to start Stage 2.

But anyone who knows Tyler Hamilton, knows he will stay in the Tour de France as long as he can stand the pain. He is an incredibly driven competitor who won’t withdraw unless he has no other choice. At the same time, Tyler is also an intelligent man and he won’t risk his health, the safety of the peloton or his career by staying in the race if the injury limits his ability to control his bike. As he said in an interview, he has a high tolerance for pain, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

You may be able to race 200 kilometers with a cracked collarbone, but you can’t get far at all if you can’t sit on a bicycle seat. Levi Leipheimer fractured one of his “sit bones,” otherwise known as the ischial tuberosity. In addition to supporting a large portion of your weight when sitting on a bicycle seat, several muscles originate at the ischial tuberosity, including three major hamstring muscles. Not only is it impossible to ride with such an injury, Levi will be immobile for a few weeks until the bone heals sufficiently.

The season is not necessarily over for either man. Even though Levi will be off his bike for weeks, fitness does not disappear as quickly as one would think. It takes a little more than a week of complete rest before you start to see an appreciable loss in fitness, and in the first few weeks of inactivity, fitness levels decline at a slow rate. After three to four weeks of rest, the rate of detraining increases, but if all goes well, after a few weeks Levi will be able to do some light aerobic work to preserve his conditioning. The Tour of Spain is not until September, and the World Championship is in October, so there’s plenty of racing left and plenty of time to prepare for it.