Crashing Out: Egan Bernal’s terrible and possibly career ending crash last week has brought back many memories of riders who were never the same after a similar ‘misfortune’. Ed Hood takes a look at the riders whose cycling careers were cut short due to an accident. You could say ‘lucky to be alive’ as there has been much worse outcomes.
Egan Bernal hit a parked bus
Egan Bernal’s recent terrible crash reminded us all just what a dangerous game professional cycling is. Even in training, where pros are riding at high speed on open roads, sharing them with other road users who may well not be fans of the sport and view cyclists, whatever their name, as a nuisance. And, as on this occasion with the Colombian, sometimes on time trial bikes – not the best beasts for executing rapid evasive measures, designed to go very fast, in a straight line.
TT bike training
There’s a school of thought that’s saying Bernal’s brilliant but still early career will be ended by this crash – he only recently turned 25 years-of-age. He’s being treated at the Clinica Universidad de La Sabana who said that the 25-year-old is in the intensive care unit following procedures to repair his fractured femur and kneecap as well as spinal surgery to,
“keep intact the neurological integrity and conserved the functionality of the segments involved. The neurosurgery team carried out a reduction of a displaced fracture from the T5 [vertebra] to the T6 [vertebra] with a traumatic herniated disk. Under constant monitoring for nervous system activity, a tool was put in place from the T3 to the T8.”
Extensive injuries for the Colombian
Bernal also suffered a collapsed lung and several fractured ribs in the accident. These injuries can only exacerbate the back problems which have dogged the young Columbian’s career in recent years. All of this had us thinking about other riders’ horror crashes, some ‘came back’ from the trauma but some were never quite the same again, or their careers ended that day. . .
Medical Update Thursday 3rd Jan 2022: Egan Bernal Successfully Operated On
The planned operation on the cervical spine of Egan Bernal was successfully performed on Wednesday. The Clínica Universidad de La Sabana, the hospital where the Colombian rider is being treated, reported in a new communiqué.
“Egan Bernal has undergone the surgical procedure that was planned,” said the institution’s medical director, Juan Guillermo Ortiz Martínez. “The patient is already recovering. The goals of the biomechanical stability of the cervical column (cervical spine) have been achieved with excellent clinical results. There were no complications during the operation.”
A famous crash, but more for the rider missed it
Joseba Beloki: The Tour de France 2003, Stage Nine, Jorg Jaksche of the mighty ONCE squadron is away solo with a comfortable lead and looks to be headed for victory in Gap. But back at the lead group, ONCE manager, Manolo Saiz, Jaksche’s boss orders his team leader, second overall in the Tour in 2002, Joseba Beloki onto the attack.
Beloki not long before the crash
Beloki asks; ‘why?’ the boss explains that he’ll do the thinking and Beloki should do the riding. Beloki, who’s second on GC @ 40 seconds to Lance Armstrong complies but the attack is fruitless; however his move sparks a counter attack from Alexandre Vinokourov who’s @ 37 seconds behind Beloki. TV viewers are then treated to ONCE drilling it to limit the Kazakh’s lead but with their own team mate at the head of affairs. Saiz orders Jaksche to sit up and wait for Beloki, Vino whistles past the German and Jaksche duly takes up chasing duties. On the descent of the Cote de la Rochette into Gap, Beloki is taking big risks, Jaksche counsel caution but the Basque pushes on, loses it on a bend and goes down hard. Lance Armstrong demonstrates some natty cyclo-cross skills to dodge the stricken Beloki but the ONCE man has broken his femur in two places, his elbow and wrist.
Double broken femur for Beloki
He’s back in 2004 but his days as a Tour contender are over, he never again posts a good result. His career ends when he’s withdrawn from the 2006 Tour with his name associated with the Puerto mess.
Froome on his warm-up, just before that crash
Chris Froome: Seven times a Grand Tour winner – four Tours de France, two Vueltas and a Giro grant him membership of that exclusive club of riders who have won all three of the world’s biggest stage races, joining Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali. The Dauphine in 2019 – a race he’s won on three occasions – part of his preparation for his attempt to win a record equalling fifth Tour de France and he’s warming up for Stage Four time trial on his low-pro. He takes his hands off the bars on a descent to blow his nose, a freak gust of wind catches him he hits a low wall and as INEOS Team Doctor, Richard Usher, explained:
“Chris was taken to Roanne Hospital where initial examinations confirmed multiple injuries, most notably a fractured right femur and right elbow. He has also suffered fractured ribs. He is now being airlifted to St Etienne University Hospital for further treatment.”
Femur, elbow and ribs broken
Despite his legendary dedication and a huge training load he’s never come anywhere near being the rider he was before the accident. His last three races – Italian semi-classics – of the 2021 season all ended as DNF; his first race of season 2022 is Paris-Nice then the Tour of Romandie, a race he’s won twice in the past but it would be difficult to visualise a hat trick for the now 36 years-old Israel-Premier Tech rider.
Fabio Jakobsen has come back
Fabio Jakobsen: Not all horror crash stories end with the victim never being the same again. . .
Truly horrible crash in Pologne
The Tour of Poland, August 2020 and young Dutch fast man tangles with countryman, Dylan Groenewegen in a frantic finish to Stage One and crashes heavily. His injuries are horrific, in his own words;
“Brain contusion, skull fractured, nose broken, palate broken and torn, 10 teeth gone, parts of my upper and lower jaw gone, cuts in my face, a big cut in my auricle [part of the ear, ed.], broken thumb, shoulder contusion, lung contusion, the nerve of my vocal cord took a heavy blow, heavily bruised buttocks.”
Jakobsen – Lucky to be back
Fast forward two years to August/September 2022 and he takes three stages and the points jersey in the Vuelta. There ARE happy endings.
Thanks to the police
Laurent Jalabert: The 1994 Tour de France, Stage One to Armentieres and a finishing straight policeman decides it’s a good idea to take a picture of the sprint and steps out in front of a frenzied bunch. Belgian sprinter Wilfried Nelissen ploughs into him at high speed and takes down Frenchman, Laurent Jalabert who suffers broken teeth, fractured cheekbones and a broken clavicle. Up until then, Jalabert was known as a sprinter but after the crash he promised his wife that he’d change his way of racing and renounce the madness of the bunch sprints. He reinvented himself to such good effect that he won the Vuelta, was twice king of the mountains in the Tour, took the Worlds time trial championship and numerous classics.
Tradgic crash in Blois
Eddy Merckx: A few months back, the late lamented Pro Cycling magazine printed a list of those riders who had won three or more of the world’s ‘big nine’ greatest races – the three Grand Tours, the five Monuments and Worlds. Only Merckx, Fausto Coppi, Rik Van Looy, Bernard Hinault, Stephen Roche, Tom Boonen and Tadej Pogacar have achieved this feat. Merckx did so on no less than seven occasions with six of these remarkable achievements coming after 1969. But the man himself maintains that he was never the same rider after his crash on the track in September 1969 at the Pierre Tessier velodrome in Blois, France.
Spinal injuries for Merckx
It was a Derny race, he and his pacer Fernand Wambst were caught in a crash when a Derny went down ahead of them – poor Wambst was killed outright, Merckx suffered head and spinal injuries and twisted his pelvis. From that day on he never again felt comfortable on his bike – hence the constant tinkering with his position. The man himself says he would have won more Tours de France but for the events of that day.
Museeuw could have lost his leg
Johan Museeuw: Paris Roubaix 1998 and the ‘Lion of Flanders’ is in brilliant form, the GP E3, Brabantse Pijl and Ronde have all gone his way so far this year; but he comes down in the Trouée d’Arenberg and shatters his knee cap, the wound is infected from the mud and slime covered cobbles. The doctors fear they may have to amputate. Two years later Museeuw rides solo onto the Roubaix velodrome in triumph for the second of his three victories, the offending knee held high. And that’s why he’s, ‘The Lion’.
Phinney’s future looked very bright… untill
Taylor Phinney: The man listened to the advice that the sports physiologists give and chose his parents well – mum, Connie was Olympic Road Race Champion and dad, Davis was a Tour de France stage winner. Young Phinney was a prodigy – winning, ‘the junior Tour de France,’ – the Tour de l’Abitibi, the junior Worlds iTT then moving up to u23 where he took the espoirs Paris-Roubaix not once but twice and added the Worlds u23 iTT. On the track he was twice world pursuit champion and silver medallist in the kilometre. His contract with BMC was reputed to be the highest ever paid to a neo-pro. As a senior in 2012 he won the Giro prologue, was fourth in the Olympic road race and iTT then took silver in the Worlds iTT, a scant six seconds behind Tony Martin.
Phinney – US TT champion
It was in May 2014 when the crash which was ultimately responsible for ending his career occurred, he’d just won the US iTT title and was riding the road race national championship; on the descent off Lookout Mountain.
“I can remember everything clearly,” Phinney told Cyclist magazine.
“We were coming down this descent in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I was leading. I was going pretty fast – it’s a really fast descent. There was one corner that I had to watch out for but if I took the right line it would be fine. It just so happens that right before that corner there was a commentary motorcycle driver who wasn’t paying as much attention as maybe he should have. It was really early in the race but, still, I had to go around him and that impeded my set-up. I ended up sliding out and hit a guard rail. I took all of the force on my left leg, on my knee and below my knee, on my tibia.”
His injuries were severe; an open compound fracture of the tibia (shinbone) and severed patellar tendon in his left leg, as well as losing a piece of his kneecap. But within a year he was back to winning ways, taking Stage One of the US Pro Challenge then part of the winning BMC Worlds winning TTT squad. Season 2016 saw him US iTT Champion for third time but team time trial success apart, the next three seasons saw few hi-lites and before his 30th birthday he called, ‘time’. The old axiom holding true that, ‘it’s the head which goes before the legs,’ that 2014 crash never really left his head.
Broken his collar bone and pelvis for Porte
Richie Porte: There’s no doubting that the man from Tassie has class; two Paris-Nice and Tour Down Under wins, the Dauphine, Tour de Suisse, Catalonia and Romandie attest to that but in the Grand Tours it was always a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ the things would go ‘aglae’, as we say in Scotland. Season 2017 is a case in point, Stage Nine of le Tour into Chambery off Mont du Chat at 70 kph and Porte loses it, crashing into rocks beside the road breaking his collar bone and pelvis. But they make ‘em tough down in Tassie and by the start of the 2018 season he was back on the podium of his beloved Tour Down Under, second to Daryl Impey – ‘resilient’ is the word.
Riviere could/should have been a Tour winner
Roger Riviere: The Frenchman was before my time but I’ve always been fascinated by pursuiters, the ‘greyhounds’ of our sport. The Frenchman was pure class, thrice World Professional Pursuit Champion, the first man under six minutes for the 5,000 metres distance and twice World hour record holder. In the 1960 Tour de France he won three stages and if he could live with yellow jersey, Italy’s hard as nails Gastone Nencini until the 19th stage 83 kilometre time trial it was likely that the Frenchman’s talent, ‘contre la montre’ would win him the Tour. But on Stage 14 as Riviere tried to follow demon descender Nencini on the drop off the Col de Perjuret the handsome man from St-Etienne went over a ravine and broke his back – his career was, ‘finis’. Rumour has it though that he actually could have raced again after his convalescence but had taken a big insurance pay out which would be recalled if he competed again.
Crash in the Giro 2008
Juan Mauricio Soler: June 12th 2011 and Colombia’s Juan Soler takes his first big win in four years, Stage Two of the Tour de Suisse. Tall for a Colombian at 1.90 he was a gifted climber with strong palmarès in South America. He came to Europe in 2006 to ride with Acqua & Sapone – Caffe Mokambo, winning the Circuit de Lorraine. But it was with, ‘Jack the Lad’, Claudio Corti’s Barloworld team – with Geraint Thomas as a team mate – that he made his stunning Tour de France debut in 2007 – a stage win, king of the mountains and second to Alberto Contador in the young rider classification.
Crash in the Tour 2008
However, the following years were marred by crash injuries and illness. The 2011 Suisse stage win seemed to mark a new dawn; sadly, just four days later Soler crashed in the village of Gloten, 11 kilometres into the sixth stage. Australia’s Baden Cooke witnessed the crash;
“All of a sudden there was a footpath with a five-centimetre edge dropping to the road level. Soler had no time to brake at all.” Soler fell on to a spectator and then smashed into a fence, suffering multiple fractures, including his skull, as well as bleeding on the brain. “The fence did not move at all so Soler took the full impact,” added Cooke. Rehabilitation for Soler was a long, slow process but happily he eventually returned to health – however, Stage Six of the Tour de Suisse was his last ever race.
We don’t know yet how Mathieu van der Poel will recover