MIND OVER MAT­TER

As Dan Martin rides half of the Tour de France with two bro­ken ver­te­brae, John Whit­ney asks what makes cy­clists so hard?

Cycling Plus - - THE HUB -

Most look as though a strong breeze would top­ple them, yet pro cy­clists prove them­selves time and again as sport’s tough­est. Dan Martin’s heroic Tour de France ride to Paris, where he over­came a stage nine crash to still fin­ish sixth over­all, is the lat­est in a long list of against-the-odds rages against the dy­ing of the light, the Ir­ish­man pos­sess­ing the gait of a man three times his age when­ever he climbed off each evening. Geraint Thomas cut a sim­i­lar fig­ure at the 2013 Tour. He’d crashed even ear­lier in the race - the very first stage, in fact, in Cor­sica - and had to be lifted from his bike by Team Sky soigneurs, such was the im­pact of his bro­ken pelvis. Against all odds - against even his mother’s wishes - he fin­ished and was no pas­sen­ger ei­ther, still man­ag­ing to be a key wing­man to Chris Froome. Of no­to­ri­ous suf­fer-lover Tony Martin, his for­mer di­recteur sportif Brian Holm once said that “with more peo­ple like him the Ger­mans would have won at Stal­in­grad in 1943.”

Why - and how - do pro cy­clists shake off cracked backs and grievous losses of skin, while foot­ballers (make that male foot­ballers, hav­ing watched the women’s Eu­ros) are prone to go­ing down like sacks of spuds and mak­ing moun­tains out of mole­hills when it comes to in­jury? For a start, good luck to a cy­clist try­ing to con a com­mis­saire and tak­ing a tum­ble on the tar­mac. More per­ti­nently, the lack of sub­sti­tu­tions in a bike race, per­ilously short con­tracts mean­ing they’re never far from the scrapheap and a pre­vail­ing ‘badge of hon­our’ at­ti­tude to­wards in­jury make it more likely a rider will push through the pain. There’s also the is­sue of con­ceal­ing in­jury, which hap­pens in other sports - box­ing, for ex­am­ple - but never more than in cycling; Team Sky only re­vealed at the end of the Tour that Luke Rowe had rid­den much of it with a bro­ken rib. To let it be known ear­lier risks ex­pos­ing weak­nesses to the op­po­si­tion. In cycling it’s a tac­ti­cal move to play down in­jury or, bet­ter still, not talk about it at all.

In­cred­i­ble feats have been achieved while in­jured and there’s al­ways more room on the hon­ours board. But per­haps there’s some­thing big­ger to say about the hu­man abil­ity to tol­er­ate pain. Dan Martin cer­tainly thinks so: “Shows how pow­er­ful the mind is in push­ing through,” he tweeted af­ter find­ing out he’d rid­den over half of the world’s tough­est en­durance race with bro­ken ver­te­brae.

Do cy­clists learn how to tap into those pain re­serves or does the fact they al­ready pos­sess them lead them to cycling in the first place? Can­non­dale-Dra­pac DS Charly Wegelius be­lieves it’s more of the lat­ter. “If you’re the type who en­joys a com­fort­able life and gives up when it gets tough then you don’t be­come a cy­clist in the first place.”

Ev­ery­one, how­ever, has the abil­ity to go deeper than they think in their tol­er­ance to pain. Whether you choose to de­pends so much on will, habit, ex­pe­ri­ence and con­text.

In cycling it’s a tac­ti­cal move to play down in­jury or not talk about it at all

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