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In first week of Tour, riders suffer from injury, illness but carry on

July 8th, 2013 8:46 am by Jan Hearne

In first week of Tour, riders suffer from injury, illness but carry on

The riders of the Tour de France are in pain. As of Wednesday, Geraint Thomas has been riding with a fractured pelvis since Saturday’s opening stage.
The boy is suffering mightily. It’s almost sickening to watch. His mother told him to quit and come home but Geraint didn’t listen. He may be out of the race by the time you read this, but to survive for four stages with a fractured pelvis, aided only by numbing spray throughout the day, shows these boys are a different caliber than the rest of us.
Meanwhile, first-class sprinter Mark Cavendish went into the Tour with bronchitis. His hopes for a yellow jersey on the first stage were dashed when he was stopped by a massive pileup not far from the finish. Chaos ensued when a team bus got stuck under the finish line banner with the peloton bearing down on it. It was like a movie — the collision too horrible to imagine — but, like in the movies, the bus was moved off in the nick of time.
Should I mention now the elephant in the room? Doping. Do I think no one is doping in this year’s Tour? No, but I think it is far less pervasive.
No other professional sport is under the same scrutiny as cycling, and the embarrassment of Lance Armstrong makes it impossible for UCI to look the other way. A new generation of riders — 27 percent of this year’s Tour contenders are first timers — wants to clean up the sport.
Is poor Geraint Thomas doping? It is highly unlikely. If he were, he’d be at the front of the pack instead of lingering at the back of the peloton, suffering through each stage. In 2002, admitted doper Tyler Hamilton came in second in the Giro d’Italia after riding nearly three weeks with a double fracture of his collarbone. Geraint had to be lifted onto his bike Monday.
I may be extremely naive, but it’s an exciting time to be a cycling fan. There are some old favorites, and by old I mean Jens Voigt, 41, who can still run riders half his age into the ground, and a new crop of cyclists, so young they look as if they aren’t shaving yet.
Andy Schleck, who has had a horrible year since he fractured his sacrum in 2012’s Criterium du Dauphine, is looking strong and happy to be racing again. Those of us who are his fans have been biting our nails for the past year, wondering if Andy would be able to overcome his emotional and physical injuries. The effects of his crash were compounded by the death of friend and teammate Wouter Weylandts in the Giro d’Italia the year before.  
Wouter’s death shook all of the riders, but Andy seemed stunned by the realization of his mortality. Never a great descender, he became cautious then crippled by his fears. At the beginning of the season, he admitted being in the peloton unhinged him.
Tuesday, out front, behind Jens Voigt, Andy looked like he knew where he belonged again. And I am where I belong, in front of the television, at the edge of my seat, wishing each of those extraordinary boys good luck and safe completion of each stage — with Andy or Cavendish out front, of course.
Jan Hearne is the Press  Tempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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