I’ve seen some physical, and brutal encounters. I’ve seen Jahvid Best get catapulted up in the air and land, on his neck, unconscious in the endzone of Memorial Stadium. I’ve seen current Falcons safety Thomas Decoud set a mammoth block that could block traffic against UCLA, and the Bruin defender fall twice on his way to the sideline. I’ve watched the highest level of club Rugby in New Zealand. The Nepal Army soccer team face the Himalayan Sherpa club in the Pokhara national stadium, with the field surrounded shoulder to shoulder by armed soldiers. And memories I haven’t witnessed live come to mind such as Kevin Ware’s shattered leg in the NCAA Tournament, Willis Mcgahee in the BCS Championship, and Sidney Crosby get a puck to the face.
But the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California was the most brutal sporting event I have ever seen.
The 124.1 mile stage stretched from Murrieta to the Tramway in Palm Springs, and the distance wasn’t the only number in triple digits. On one of the motorcycles following the riders, the thermometer read 111 at a late stage of the race. It was 111 degrees! The temperature climbed from 93 at the stage start at 10:20 AM the whole day, just like the riders had to climb the final 6 kilometers (4 miles) straight up hill. It was like ascending a skyscraper. There were almost no turns, and there was no shade, the riders received no quarter. But none of them asked for any either.
American Timmy Duggan before the race predicted the final climb would be “extreme.” He previewed the tramway climb months ago, and even did it twice then. But even when it was 85 degrees then, he said, “You couldn’t pay me to do it again.” Duggan finished 9 minutes back on Monday, as the final 6k climb decimated a field that joined together just before the last ascent. That was for 34th place.
Two other riders were hospitalized. They are not the first riders in the history of the sport, or any sport to be hospitalized. But watching those two elite riders, trained at handling tough conditions and tremendous levels of self-inflicted pain, barely conscious with oxygen masks over their face, ice bags around them and IV’s getting carted into an ambulance, I couldn’t help but ask the question is it worth it?
There are two camps of athletes in the NFL and NHL. Those who know they are paid mercenaries for big money, special interests, and entertainment and accept it. And those who know it, and at the end of the day know it’s not worth it. Veterans fight management for compensation for the health risks and injuries they suffer, while a new wave of athletes enter the workforce every year. The future of American football is in serious doubt as we know it due to the crippling effects of CTE, as it is for hockey as well. We turned away from boxing, and other sports could follow.
The Amgen Tour of California is a huge production for fans, sponsors, and riders. And it’s hardly the only one in the international sport of cycling. But the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California calls into question all of this self-inflicted pain. Maybe a desk job wouldn’t be so bad?
American youngster Lawson Craddock said it’s just racing a bike, and the conditions are something everyone of the riders had to deal with. He’s right. But it makes me question whether glorifying a level of performance that is probably if not likely very harmful to an athlete’s body is worth our time as fans, and the effort for professional athletes.
24 year old American Tejay Van Garderen had a spectacular day, getting second in the stage and setting himself up for an overall win at the Tour of California. But after the race, the young rider confessed this is definitely the hottest race he had ever done. A Palm Springs local said you get accustomed to the heat, eventually. Like a vaccine, he would build up his tolerance to heat, but that would take 2 weeks, not 2 hot days of the Amgen Tour of California.