Tour de France: 7 Stage Update

I know I have not been on top of the Tour, but honestly as a sports fan I usually try to find time to watch some of each stage (I guess with a third child something has to go, ha).  However, last night I was bombarded by concussion news from the Tour de France from around the world, via email and tweets.  I would like to say thanks to everyone that passed along the information, a special thank you to Bill from Australia.  There has been two high-profile head injuries resulting in very intriguing coverage from international press.  Let me add to this, that the CDC (the statistic gatherer in America), has cycling as the NUMBER ONE activity that causes brain injury for all AGES.

Here is what has happened for those of you that do not follow cycling, it started in Stage 5 when Tom Boonen from Belgium crashed and continued in the stage and race the next day.  However after starting Stage 7 he abandoned the race due to his headache;

Boonen sat down to talk with the press but this clearly wasn’t his usual self. He was pale and talked quietly. Almost at the same moment, Cavendish crossed the line after winning the stage’s final bunch sprint. It didn’t matter much to Boonen.

“I’ve got a huge headache,” said Boonen. “Every kilometre was one too many. I was wondering, ‘who am I pleasing by continuing?’ Not myself, that’s for sure.

“I was a danger for the other riders, too. I think I suffered a concussion. Noise, colours… I couldn’t stand them. A honking car that passed was echoing a thousand times in my head. Yesterday was a dark day – due to the rain – and maybe that’s why it went better.”

There was a huge contrast between how Boonen appeared after Thursday’s stage finish and his downbeat self after abandoning on Friday afternoon. The Belgian rider had had a rough night during which he couldn’t sleep. On Friday morning, he threw up, yet still started the stage.

In hindsight, starting the stage didn’t seem like such a good idea. “That’s cycling,” said Boonen with a sigh. “If you can put on your racing number you can race.”

And seven was NOT the lucky number for the Tour de France as 35km from the finish of that stage, where Boonen was talking to the media about his abandonment, there was another crash with at least one rider, American Chris Horner, sustained a head injury.  Horner hopped on his bike and finished but;

“We had a few guys right there: Levi, Haimar, Markel and of course Chris. He was the worst. When I got there, he was lying in a ditch and was very shaken. It was obvious he’d hit very hard. He finished the stage and I think basically he’s OK physically … But we’re taking him to the hospital to have a scan. He doesn’t really know where he is right now or what happened. We’ll see what the results are but I fear the worst.

That description is very concerning, but wait until you see THIS VIDEO (must take the jump, can’t embed), Horner has no idea about anything.  This would definitely be a situation for immediate DQ if anyone had any sense about concussions.

Cycling News (the media source from the previous story links) also ran an article about the rash of TBI in the sport as of late and who should be clearing the riders when they fall;

Professional cycling has been plagued by head injuries this season, and during the Tour de France, no fewer than three riders have suffered concussions in just one week of racing: Tom Boonen (Quickstep) and Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack) have dropped out of the race, while it is still to be determined if Chris Horner will continue after finishing stage 7 in a daze.

The latest spate of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) – the medical term for a concussion – and the fact that both Horner and Boonen soldiered on despite being obviously affected in terms of cognitive ability, has raised the issue of who should be the one to determine whether a rider can keep racing after landing on his head.

And if a rider can mount his bike and ride in a straight line should that be good enough to continue?  Or should there be someone in charge of their safety and the safety of the other competitors;

“I think the race doctors should be the ones with the authority to make these decisions,” Steffen said, but in his team’s case, it is the staff who are tasked with making that difficult call.

Riders who continue to compete with TBI’s not only risk causing themselves or others to crash due to reduced attention, but they also slow the healing progress by raising their heart rates and risk permanent damage should they crash again.

Steffen, who has worked in emergency medicine, came up with his own protocol for evaluating head injuries after attending a conference on concussions in sport in Zurich a few years ago. The team’s main lead-out man Julian Dean suffered a delayed reaction to a knock he took to the head in the Volta a Catalunya this year, and ever since then the team has carried a step-by-step guide to assessing head injuries.


2 thoughts on “Tour de France: 7 Stage Update

  1. Kurt July 10, 2011 / 06:44

    Just playing devils advocate here. These men are very strong willed men, and who wouldn’t be strong willed to get on a bike and ride over mountains for the better part of two weeks everyday, so getting a legitimate answer from them is probably non existent. That being said cycling has an advantage that no other sport has and that is the use of race radios. Why not use that to your advantage if time is an issue (If some one is laying on the ground with obvious TBI symptoms they should be removed such as Brajkovic and Horner). You (team doctor) can remain in constant contact with the rider and they have the ability to have that rider return to the team car at will (If they already crashed they are only racing for tomorrow in most cases due to lost time) and follow up with the rider thus allowing time to make a proper diagnosis. What other sport allows that much leeway of contact while the event is being contested. Again, just playing devils advocate.

    • Dan July 10, 2011 / 16:57

      I can sort of understand what you’re saying Kurt. Cycling is different in the sense that there’s no “sitting out this game/match and we’ll see how your symptoms are tomorrow/over the weekend and then begin progressive RTP, if warranted” We’re taught to take out/keep out anyone suspected we suspect of a concussion, no matter what doubt we have otherwise, to err on the side of caution (and LIFE). But when these guys sitting out just one day means the entire 20 day, 2,200 mile tour for these guys. The team docs, or staff, or whoever is making the call must be as absolute certain as possible there is a concussion, especially considering some of these guys’ accidents (Horner) don’t permit them to tell for themselves.

      Freighting stuff.

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