As you probably heard, thanks to a Twitter competition run by the guys at wiggle, I got to ride the team car behind Mathias Frank in Saturday’s opening prologue time-trial at this year’s Tour de France. A real ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and one that I’ll never forget…
Mathias looked confident going into his ride. Some of the other riders I’d seen before the start were really nervous. I was close enough to see their hands shaking. He had recently won the king of the mountains competition at his home race the Tour de Suisse and the BMC team had high hopes that he would support Cadel through the challenges in the mountains.
Following the baking heat of the previous day, the skies darkened just before the first riders set off and it was raining to various degrees throughout the race. It seemed to be at its worst as Mathias started.
Once underway, the realisation that I was in a team car at the Tour de France hit me! The directeur sitting in front of me shouting encouragement to his young rider; warning him of the dangerous corners ahead or where he should push on; the faces blurring past the window; the strangely muffled sound of applause and cheering; the scary-fast speed that a pro can ride at… I was loving it!
Halfway and Mathias was well in contention.
But then it all went wrong.
Mathias has had a few ‘moments’ on the white lines around some of the tighter bends with his back wheel twitching away. But being a pro, the bike handling skill he showed were incredible.
Then as he came out from under the tramway round a right-hand bend, the back wheel twitched and he didn’t recover it. He went down hard and slammed into the barriers. He hit the barriers so hard that a couple of people who were standing behind them were sent crashing down. I didn’t see them move afterwards – I guess they had been knocked unconscious.
The front-end of the bike was smashed to bits with only the cables holding the bars in place. The team mechanic jumped out of the seat next to me, grabbed a bike from the roof and ran to Mathias’ assistance.
Mat got to his feet, clearly shaken and got onto the new bike. It was almost that in this moment of huge shock, pain and disorientation, that he did the thing that came most naturally – he started pedalling.
As we pulled along side, I took a few pictures before I realised quite what a state the kid was in. I felt uneasy taking any more. It looked like his teeth had gone through his lip and caused a nasty gash that was pumping blood. The rain and spray from his front wheel was thinning the blood out and washing it down onto his legs and top-tube of the bike. It was sickening and must have added to his shock.
I can only admire his strength and dedication to continue – a lesson for the footballers I’d seen writhing around in the game the previous night…
John Lelangue, the directeur sportif offered his charge some reassuring words and got busy on the radio, ensuring a doctor would be at the finish to look after Mathias. he dealt with this situation really calmly. Despite being obviously concerned about one of his young stars, he was also philosophical. ‘that’s racing’ he said in response to my near hysterical jibbering.
We later discovered that Mathias had had stitches in that lip wound, but more seriously had broken his thumb and torn a muscle in his left thigh.
He was out of the tour after just 6 minutes.
I can’t imagine how it must feel to dedicate your life to an event; to spend a whole year making decisions based on the effects and consequences it will have on the tour. Mathias had made those decisions and sacrifices and yet his tour was all over so quickly.
I felt terrible for the lad. But I guess, as his directeur says, it comes with the territory and will all help to make him a stronger rider in the future.
Mathias erholen sich schnell und viel Glück für die Zukunft