OYONNAX: American rider Andrew Talansky's hopes of winning the Tour de France had effectively vanished after two crashes last week. But he became another kind of cycling hero on Wednesday: the rider who would not quit when he probably should.
Talansky, known as the Pitbull, started the 187.5-kilometre stage from Besancon with a prominent bandage on his right knee, a legacy from his dramatic crash near the finish in Nancy on Friday. Other scrapes, cuts and bruises were added to his body on Saturday when he became tangled with several other riders on a rainy descent.
By the end of Monday's stage, Talansky, 26, was so stiff that he was unable to remove his jersey at the finish line without help from a team staff person.
The masseurs and physiotherapists of Talansky's Garmin Sharp team spent Tuesday's rest day attempting to get him back in form. But there was no miracle cure.
At least Wednesday's race took place under sunny skies in summerlike temperatures, unlike most of the cold and wet French stages of this year's Tour.
But when the peloton sped up with about 82km remaining to the finish, Talansky, his pedaling somewhat laboured, lost contact. Drifting backward he had a prolonged conversation with his team directors in a following car.
The conversation was inaudible on television, but the decision soon became apparent. Talansky pressed on, even though he soon fell behind not only contact with the riders but also the long tail of team cars, official vehicles and press cars that drag along behind the race.
That left him painfully alone. His only company was a team car, a television motorbike and the broom wagon, the van that sweeps up riders who abandon the race but who do not get into a team car.
French television frequently switched between the action at the increasingly distant front of the race and Talansky's odyssey. In case anyone forgot why he was suffering, the broadcast often split the screen to rerun images of Talansky's crash in Nancy.
After continuing for about 48km, it appeared that Talansky might have had enough. He dismounted, unable to stand up straight because of his stiff back. He carefully leaned his bike against a metal guard rail and sat down. Minutes passed as Talansky and his team director, Robbie Hunter, talked.
"I'd never encourage a person to get off their bike," Hunter, a former rider, said later. "I myself have been in a position where I've stopped Tour de Frances previously and a couple of hours later I regretted it. The only thing I said to Andrew is: 'If you're going to stop, make sure it's the right decision.'"
Talansky, still obviously in pain, remounted his bike and continued at a steady pace, with Hunter shouting encouragement from the car.
"He got the emotion out of it and that kind of thing and thought about it for a couple of seconds and decided to continue to get to the finish," Hunter said.
Though racing the Tour while injured is usually not doctor-recommended, it is widely applauded by fans. One of the most famous episodes came in 1983 when French rider Pascal Simon fractured his shoulder blade while wearing the race leader's yellow jersey. He pressed on, pushed up hills by teammates for five days before quitting the race. He remains as well known in France for his perseverance as many riders are for winning the Tour.
In 2003, Tyler Hamilton, the subsequently disgraced American rider, continued to ride in the Tour with a broken collarbone.
Tony Gallopin, a French rider for Lotto Belisol, won his second stage of this Tour, a solo victory that was so tight that the 36 riders behind him were given the same time.
But now Talansky had a deadline. Under the Tour's time elimination rule, he had to come across the finish line 37 minutes 17 seconds later, or he would not be allowed to start on Thursday.
As the digital clock ticked on, the day's awards were given to Gallopin; the race leader, Vincenzo Nibali; and assorted other riders. The crowd began to wander off. Some fans heeded the announcer's call over loudspeakers to remain and honour Talansky's courage.
Ashen-faced, Talansky came across the line 32:05 after Gallopin to loud cheers from the spectators who stuck it out.
As one team official ran ahead to clear a path through the milling spectators swarming the road, another pushed Talansky to the team bus. To add to his misfortune, the bus was second to last in a long line of buses that stretched for about three blocks from the finish.
Talansky stiffly dismounted directly from his bike onto the stairwell of the bus. As its door swiftly swung shut, through its window it was apparent that Talansky could not climb the stairs until a team official reached down and pulled him up.
Minutes later he emerged to a crush of cameras and reporters and said that he had continued for his teammates "after all they've done for me."
Hunter said Talansky would meet with team doctors on Wednesday night and decide his next step.
"Now we can sit down tonight and make a proper decision and see where we can go with this," Hunter said.
The New York Times