The column: Them’s the breaks

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A Rouleur contributor has come a cropper. This week’s column is a sympathy plea masquerading as an epiphany

Photographs: Offside/L'Equipe

It’s a familiar image from cycling: a rider sitting up in the aftermath of a crash, clutching a shoulder with the opposite hand. Despite the vast majority not having years of medical training behind them, the average viewer will have the confidence to diagnose it almost immediately as a broken collarbone.

When it happened to me, two weeks ago today, it wasn’t like that. 

I shan’t go into exactly how my bike and I found ourselves coming to a premature, precipitous and painful separation, except to say no other vehicle was involved and I don’t think it was my fault. I was wearing a helmet but, strangely enough, said lid failed to protect me from harm to my clavicle, both hands, my left knee and right hip. For what it’s worth, the helmet itself escaped without a scratch. As did the bike. I know you were wondering.

My flatmate who was, fortunately, bike lengths back to avoid being collateral damage, might dispute some of these details but, from what I remember, I lifted myself up off the ground fairly quickly. Thank you, adrenaline. 

Not the author’s broken collarbone, but Tyler Hamilton’s, though his looked pretty similar tbh

My initial thought was that it might still be possible to continue on our ride. Then the pain in my right shoulder began to make itself known. Unable to make a visual inspection, I reached around to give it a feel. “Abnormally nobbly” was the conclusion I came to. Ambulance or Uber was the next call to be made. Shaken but still relatively with it, I opted for the latter, insisting on going via my flat to drop off the bike first. Priorities, right?

(As an aside, and not to sound like a Tripadvisor review, if you are ever unfortunate enough to require a trip to A&E, I really can’t recommend that of London’s King’s College Hospital highly enough. For all the praise we’ve been heaping on the NHS in recent months, I have a sneaking suspicion that, for many of us, the service appeals more in the abstract than in reality. But it really is brilliant. As calm, efficient, and professional as you’d hope. And above all, kind. An extra that really does go a long way.)

Having more experience of broken bones than I care to consider, my money was on a break and so the x-ray confirmed. 

You may already know that, due to the location, there’s not much to be done with a busted clavicle, but it’s still bizarre to me that there’s been no actual treatment advice at all. I’ve been told to avoid tug-of-war competitions and chin-ups (yeah right, as if a cyclist can actually do a chin-up), wear the sling if I want to, but generally I’m just leaving the body to do its thing. 

Not looking good for Frederick Willems

I will confess that, in the past, when the scene I describe in the opening paragraph has flashed onto the Rouleur Towers TV, my first response has all too often not been a flinching feeling of sympathy for the victim, but that I should probably Tweet this Rouleur article about crash photography. Never again will I be quite so callous.

I won’t have considered how much pain they’ll have been in, and for how long it’ll go on, or the many nights they’ll have woken up in agony, having rolled the wrong way in their sleep. Although not as inconvenient as breaking a leg or wrist (separate incidents of mine), this has been, and continues to be, an order of magnitude more painful than both. 

Read: World of pain – facing up to the dangerous reality of racing bikes

I certainly won’t have thought about how frustrating it would be for a rider to not be able to do, well, anything. With my body committed to fixing itself, for a fortnight I have been as feeble as a kitten. My first vaguely meaningful bit of exercise was an hour’s walk across London yesterday and even that was a bit much. All I want to do now is get back out on my bike but that’s a month away at best. I can only imagine what it would be like if your job depended on it.

None of which ought to be read as a sympathy plea for a smart trainer and Zwift sub (though Wahoo et al, if you’re reading, do feel free to get in touch). Rather it’s to say that – when they return – I shall be watching bike races a bit differently.

Stay safe everyone.


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