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By Tyler Hamilton, Phonak Hear ing Systems Pro Cycling Team
GIRONA – Well, I certainly didn’t expect to be filing a journal entry from Spain during the Tour de France this year. With eight starts, I have never had to abandon the Tour before. It has been a difficult couple of days for me but everyone around me keeps telling me to stay focused on the future. I think that’s good advice, so, as I always say, upward and onward.
I guess my Tour de France really ended in Stage 6 on July 9th when I went down in the massive pile up one kilometer from the finish. I went over the handlebars and landed on my back. We had been going about 65 kilometers per hour at the time and when I got hit by another rider inside the domino effect; I went down so fast there was no time to react. I never had the chance to try and break my fall with an arm or an elbow. When I hit the tarmac with my lower back, it was the full weight of my body multiplied by the speed. It was the equivalent of dropping from the sky and landing on top of a telephone pole.
After the race, I called my wife and told her what had happened. I knew then that I had not just injured my back, but that I had done some damage to it. I know enough about pain to understand the difference between the superficial and serious stuff. And I knew early on we were dealing with the second category.
But still trying to be optimistic, I tried to deny how bad things were at first. When the chiropractor on our team couldn’t adjust my spine because it was seized up, I thought – we’ll give it a day, and it will be okay. When Kristopher, our physiotherapist, trained by my old pal Ole let out a long sigh after working tirelessly to “unblock” my muscles, I told myself to be patient.
Luckily stages 7 through 11 were relatively tame which gave me a few more days to try and recover from the injuries before we got to the big mountains. Similar to the strategy I used in the 2002 Giro, we didn’t want to speak publicly about my back because we didn’t want the other teams to attack us, especially during the trickier stages 10 and 11. My team did an incredible job of protecting me and got me to the first mountain stage in the best possible shape under the circumstances.
Preliminary X-rays have not revealed any fractures. But and MRI scan scheduled for later today may show us what we suspect to be true. The doctors think the impact has either badly pulled or torn the ligaments and muscles in my lower back. This would explain why I couldn’t climb like normal.
I lot of people may think I had to abandon the Tour due to pain. Although the injury is painful, this is not the case. It was really a lack of power. Your legs can only function with the full strength of the muscles in your stomach and lower back. With one side out of commission, I didn’t have the power I needed to push the pedals. If you saw the coverage on television, there was no suffering on my face, because I was physically unable to push myself to that point.
It was disappointing to lose three and half minutes in stage 12 but under the circumstances I don’t know how I didn’t lose more time. The next morning, Alvaro Pino made the call in our team meeting. He had given the situation a lot of thought during the night and knew what we were up against. If it was clear at any point in stage 13 that I couldn’t climb with the leaders than I had to stop. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing him saying. But Alvaro is a logical man who cares an awful lot about his riders, and would never put them in a situation that would compromise them or their future. He was firm with his direction. Little did I know, he had spoken with Kristopher who had told him my back was, well, to put it politely, “bad”.
After the second Col, I knew I was cooked. The peloton was riding tempo and I couldn’t push the pedals hard enough to stay in contact. With a heart rate probably under 120, I was having trouble staying in contact with the peloton. I was like a battery-powered toy on its last leg. I was going as fast as I could with the power I had left in me, but it was barely half of my potential.
So I drifted back to Alvaro and without much of a word he gave me the signal to stop. So on a flat section of the course I made my rounds through the bunch and wished my teammates the best. Leaving these guys in the heat of the battle is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
There is no way to explain how much this team means to me, or what those eight guys had done for me leading up to the Tour and at the race itself. I know we arrived in Liege with the strongest team in the race. What we overcame in the team time trial to finish second proved that. Without five mechanicals, I think we would have been able to show the world just how ready we were to fight a good fight.
But sometimes things happen that are out of your control that keep your goals beyond reach. I feel like I arrived at the Tour de France last year and this year in the best shape possible and ready to take on the challenges ahead. But fate is a lousy negotiator and sometimes you have to take the hands you are dealt.
This is a crazy injury. One that I cannot control or overcome just by willing myself to do so. I would take the pain of two broken collarbones over this any day – and keep riding if I could. But something has come unplugged. So it’s time to rest and start thinking about the races up the road. I’m hoping to be well enough to still compete in Athens. And there’s always the Vuelta to consider. But first things first, which for now is recovery.
Coming off of the emotional stress of losing Tugboat, the disappointment of abandoning the Tour is in perspective. I know there will be another Tour de France next year. And I’m already looking forward to it.
But this year’s race is not over, and team Phonak is going to be going hard straight through to Paris. I spoke to Nicolas Jalabert last night after his long day in the breakaway and his impressive second place and he said “Man, I tried so hard to win for you today.”
This kind of loyalty and friendship means the world to me. All things considered I’m a very lucky guy. My wife and I will be heading to Paris this weekend to cheer the boys home. It’s a moment I’m looking forward to.
I’ll be back with more thoughts about the Tour in the coming days. And I will also share some of my stories about my final days and experiences with Tugboat as well.
Thanks for your support and thanks for reading.
Tyler Hamilton, a member of the Phonak Hearing systems professional cycling team, is a regular contributor to VeloNews and VeloNews.com. In addition to a thriving cycling career, Hamilton is also the founder of The TylerHamilton Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to provide opportunityand access for individuals affected by multiple sclerosis and aspiringyoung athletes with a passion for cycling.