For all the slings and arrows thrown at cycling over the past years, I beg you all to consider the case of America’s Lawson Craddock and his stunningly brave ride in yesterday’s Team Time Trial in Cholet. Craddock, who crashed heavily in the first stage, damaging his face and breaking his scapula…has soldiered on in the race to wide acclaim. But his performance yesterday took machismo to an entirely new level.
The TTT is a unique event, the most violent effort there is in cycling. Also, the most treacherous as I’ll explain. In an individual race, say a normal time trial or a road race, one can decide pretty much how hard you want to go; even in a road race a rider can decide to “lift the foot off the pedal” or hide for a bit in the depths of the peloton. Not in a TTT. Your teammates are counting on you and at the same time, setting the pace that you have no choice but to accept and deal with. For a little climber, the TTT is as close to cycling hell as they can get. Today’s speeds are just beyond belief, with years of rider position and bicycle aerodynamic research coming into play. The riders use enormous gears – 58 x 11 instead of the normal 53 x 11 – and were hitting speeds of 90 – yes 90kph yesterday (that’s 56 mph in American).
The new generation of time trial bicycles – carbon fiber missiles – put the riders high and forward on the machines which makes control that much more difficult. Add to that the “triathlon” handlebars, levers that push the joined hands out front far, far away from the brake levers and you have a situation that requires intense bike handling ability. The things are hard enough to handle in an individual TT, but add in seven more riders, crazy speeds, and the now-normal pinball machine obstacle courses full of off-camber roundabouts and out-of-control roadside fans that pass for racecourses today and one has the recipe for all sorts of trouble.
A few years ago, I suffered a fairly massive twin shoulder injury so have an idea of what Craddock is going through. Thing is, with a shoulder, once you get back on the bicycle, and able to ignore the pain, the little adjustments and movements that you do to control your ride don’t automatically happen as things are disconnected somehow in that area of the body. So you thinks you’ve done a turn correctly and suddenly, halfway through, realize that you cannot, in fact, control the bike as you’d done before. Craddock must have at least some of those same sensations and, at 60kph+, glued to the wheel in front, riding a 200bpm and taking roundabouts at flirting-with-disaster speeds: I’m just stunned and full of admiration for the young Texan. His brave performance was a major part in saving his team’s and Rigoberto Uran’s Tour yesterday, and he has gained a deserved world-wide collection of fans and admirers in the process.
John Eustice, is the organizer of the Thompson Bucks County Classic in Doylestown, Pennsylvania and a long-time cycling analyst who has contributed to ESPN, ABC Sports, Time Magazine, and CNN among others. The Bucks County native resides in New York City. He was a pioneer on the European racing circuit and is a two-time United States Professional Champion.