The pain behind the numbers - La Vuelta

For our latest Vuelta collection we took the data from David's Garmin file of Stage 17 of the 2014 Vuelta Espana and used it to create a colourful parametric pattern. There’s a reason Stage 17 was chosen - it was one of the hardest days on the bike for him. This is the story behind the data - an extract from David's book, The Racer.

 

STAGE 15

I don’t remember much, it all happens so fast, I’ve been in dozens and dozens of crashes in my life – all sorts of crashes, not just cycling. Yet I’ve never experienced anything like this.

I had the tiniest fraction of time to react, there was next to no warning. As we swept across the road we took ourselves into the path of bollards that separated the slip road from the main carriageway. I was far enough toward the front to be one of the first to sweep through them. I guess a couple of guys further ahead managed to dodge them but didn’t have enough time to give a signal to those behind. The guy in front of me smashed into one. It was like an explosion: one second I was on his wheel, the next he was in the air. I remember instinctively dodging, yet before I knew it I hit something. I don’t remember being airbound, as the impact had been so big that it was still resonating through my body when I hit the ground.

In the space of five seconds I’ve gone from total control at 60km/h to motionless and shell-shocked on the ground. I know I’ve gone down hard – my back and shoulder are burning like hell – but it doesn’t take me long to realise I haven’t broken anything obvious. The guy who’s gone down in front of me is foetal on the ground and groaning. I stand up as quickly as I can so that they know I’m OK and they can focus on him. As soon as I do I start to hobble. I’ve smashed my knee really badly. I look down at it: it’s deep enough to be white rather than bloody. Ah fuck, that’s not good.

I go and sit down on the grass next to the road. Oh shit, this really hurts.  Everything starts to burn. It is impossible to pinpoint anything. Alex, my mechanic, comes running up with wheels. ‘Oh dude, no! Fuck, Dave. You OK?’

Alex is my man, more than my mechanic, a friend. ‘ I dunno. Hurts a lot already. I think I need my spare bike,’ I say. He’s running back to the car before I’ve even finished. I can here him shouting, ‘GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING WAY!’

The look of concern on the faces of those asking me if I’m OK doesn’t fill me with confidence. Once Alex gets back with my spare bike I get going again, immediately. The race is ripping along, only 20km into the stage, with no breakaway yet formed and hills coming up. It’s the point in the day where the peloton is going fastest; I can’t faff about feeling sorry for myself.

My jersey is ripped up and there is blood everywhere; it’s pretty obvious I’m fucked. Everybody wants to help an injured rider, other team’s cars don’t hesitate to offer me their slipstream. When my team car makes it back up to me they pull up alongside.  I hold on to the roof rack and let them pull me back to speed while the team doctor leans out and starts looking closer at all the damage. I stop pedaling, knowing that I need to use the team car as much as possible while I can. The commissaires will turn a blind eye to this – it’s one of those times where they know I need every advantage I can get, as I’m not doing it for any other reason than to survive the day.

STAGE 16

I decide not to go to hospital for X-rays, as whatever they tell me won’t change the fact that I’m going to carry on, and, anyway, tomorrow is the rest day, so I can get myself properly checked out then. The day after a big crash is always bad: the body inflames and seizes up, and it’s usually hard to sleep because of all the wounds. Things are not made any easier today by knowing it’s the queen stage of the race: the biggest mountain day. Not ideal.

My hand hurts more than anything else now; it has swollen up like a balloon during the night. My other injuries don’t bother much in comparison. I wake up early as usual. For some reason I decide to shave – I suppose it makes me feel like I’m not giving up – but just holding the razor hurts so much. I watch myself ever so delicately put the razor against my cheek: it’s like I’m shaving for the first time, my hand doesn’t feel like mine, and it’s certainly doesn’t look like mine.  Suddenly it crosses my mind: if I can barely shave, how can I race? I stand there in front of the mirror, I put the razor down, and look at myself. I’m not going to cry, don’t cry. I hold it back, my eyes just tearing up a little. This can’t be my last ever day racing.

I go and sit down on the end of my bed and regroup. It doesn’t take long. I stand back up. I can do this. I go and shave in almost ritualistic manner.

I do down to breakfast. My team mate Koldo Fernandez is there, which is rare, Sean our chef, has made us pancakes, among other things. We stand at the breakfast table, where everything is laid out. I have my plate in my left hand and try to use the tongs with my right. I can’t do it. Koldo gently takes them off me without saying anything, puts his plate down and takes mine, then asks what I’d like for breakfast. We sit down at the table. He can see I’m not good. He hasn’t asked me how I am, or commented on the hand. He just looks at me and says, ‘It’s difficult isn’t it?’ I can’t speak for fear I’m going to lose it, so I just look down and nod. Koldo’s words feel like the most empathetic thing anybody has ever said to me.

I make it through the day, painkiller-free, as per our new team policy. It’s difficult.

REST DAY

Go to the hospital. I have two broken fingers and a fractured rib. Now wearing splints for my fingers.

STAGE 17

A postcard to my son.

Archibald, Today was hellish, my body didn’t work. Went hard ALL day, 190km, starting in this town. We did almost 3000m climbing yet not one of them was classified, it was torture for me. My fingers are in braces & my left side is all weak, it meant I was a shadow of my normal self. The highlight of my day was sitting on the terrace of an empty café after signing on, only 300m from the image on this card. I just sat there & thought about what awaited me & wondered how or why I do it to myself. I had no answers yet it was good to think about it & also oddly calming. Ryder & Nathan engaged the Buddy System towards the end of the stage, boosting me when I was getting dropped then staying with me when I was finally dropped with 10km to go. Ouf. Love, Dad. Xxx

That Vuelta in 2014 was the last of my 24 Grand Tours, I had targeted its final week for chasing a stage win. The final stage wasn’t in Madrid, it finished in Santiago de Compostela, the culmination of the similarly named pilgrimage route. Stage 17 was when I accepted that I was no longer racing, I had entered the final phase of my own journey as a bike racer, and it took me deeper within myself than any other Grand Tour I’d ever done.

They say numbers can’t tell a story, and maybe that’s true, but sometimes they paint a picture, and so that’s what we’ve done with our VUELTADATA pattern.