You’ve seen it before on screen: an athlete with a wound, needing medical treatment. It happens in sport but for Lawson Craddock on the opening stage of this year's Tour it was a little different to the standard ‘blood bin’ ruling that applies in many sports.
There was no chance for a moment on the sideline, a quick patch-up job, and back to the action. Nah, this is cycling. They do things differently on the road.
At the end of the stage, he’d be stitched up. The cut above the left eye wasn’t the worst of it, even if the blood trickling down his face added to the dramatic aesthetic. What was of a greater concern to the rider and his team was his shoulder.
“He couldn’t say, in the race, if it was broken or not,” said EF Education First-Drapac’s director Charly Wegelius shortly after the stage. “So we basically left the decision in his hands if he felt safe to continue and just tried to reinforce to him that he shouldn’t put himself or anybody else in danger if he couldn’t hold the bars.”
Yep, you read that correctly: the director had greater concern for the rider and the others in the peloton than the needs of the team. If he was hurt so bad he couldn’t hang on, then he could make the decision to stop.
Of course he didn’t want to, this is the Tour de France! Like everyone in the bunch this month, the 26-year-old from Houston worked hard to make the eight-man team selection. One of his strengths is time trialling and the team time trial is just two days away. He wants to be there, not just for personal glory but to help his team. EF-Drapac has, after all, the runner-up from last year on the roster.
Craddock wants to do all he can to help team leader ‘Rigo’ Uran. A cut above the eye after a face-plant on hot bitumen wasn’t going to stop him. But, as Wegelius pointed out, if he couldn’t hang on to the handlebars, he could be a liability.
He may have been one of the first to crash but he wouldn’t be the last on a fast, hot opening stage. He would, however, be the one to suffer the biggest loss. He finished last, eight minutes behind stage winner Fernando Gaviria.
The good news is all 176 riders made it to the finish on the opening day. No one likes to see anyone drop out so early but if anyone is to succumb to the injuries sustained from several incidents on the road to Fontenay-le-Comte, it’s likely to be the American in last place.
The initial medial report from the race doctors confirmed the worst affected by falls on stage 1 was Craddock. When they released the communique, however, the exact ramifications were yet to be determined. Why? A doping control delayed the assessment.
He raced around 100km with a wound on his face that needed stitches plus what was later confirmed as a small fracture in his scapula. He believed he could still hang on strong enough not to put others at risk. He maintained contact with the bunch after chasing for a little while… but then slipped off the back at the end.
Rotten luck, both with the crash and then to find his name as one of those selected at random by the organisers to be tested, But Craddock went through the protocol required of a rider who is part of the modern peloton.
“It’s definitely a blow because even if it isn’t broken and he continues,” said Wegelius, “he was basically one of our big assets for the team time trial. So it’s a bit of a disappointment.”
Blood bin? Nah, not in cycling. It’s (usually) a non-contact sport but it’s important that there are safe working conditions for all professionals. And one of the key messages of this story is the fact that Wegelius made Craddock aware that, if he posed a risk, he should quit.
“I think sometimes the riders should be a little bit protected from themselves in those kinds of situations where their determination is a little bit too extreme."
The team insisted he play it safe. The rider did all he could. Unlike the wet day in Düsseldorf last year which claimed numerous casualties – including a few high-profile riders – the complete peloton survived the anxiety of the opening day but we wait to see what happens to Craddock in his second Tour de France.
“It’s not an ideal start of the Tour for me,” he said after his doping control and after a quick visit to the race’s medicos. “We’ll have to see how I feel tonight and maybe get on the bike in the morning just to give it a feel.”
He drew a deep breath, smiled at the cameras from NBC but then let his emotions show. Tears welled and he finally admitted his frustrations. “I’ve put too much work into it to abandon.”
We wait to see what his personal assessment is in advance of stage 2.