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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Vino and Kloden - the physiology of a bike accident

Today sees the first big mountain stage of the Tour de France, with the riders tackling the Category 1 Col de la Colombiere, 16km at 6.8%.

So far the Tour has been dominated by mass sprints and some key accidents, notably those of Andreas Kloden and Alexander Vinokourov. Both riders were among the favourites at the start of the Tour, and two days ago, both may have seen their prospects come to grief on the Tarmac of the Loire Valley.

We at Science of Sport will still give a comprehensive overview of a Tour de France rider in days to come, where we’ll look at the changes that a rider’s body can expect to undergo during the three weeks of racing. We’ll also analyse just what the best riders are going physiologically in order to ride as they do.

But for today, a short post on these two Astana riders and the physiology of a crash. Both will be hurting badly today. Kloden has a hairline fracture of the coccyx, which is reportedly making it difficult to stand on the pedals. Vinokourov has 30 stitches in his knee, so both have some enormous problems to overcome on the climbs, where they’ll have to produce power outputs in excess of 600W for short periods, and average power outputs of 400W for almost an hour!

But apart from these obvious physical injuries (and the pain they bring), there is also an unseen physiological reason why a rider struggles after crashing. And this is that the body responds to an accident in much the same way as it responds to an infection – the rider can develop a fever, display flu like symptoms, they may have elevated body temperature, and so on. This is because the human body recognizes the damage caused by an accident in the same way as it recognizes the damage caused by infection and it kicks out a ‘systemic’ response to fix the problem. So the good news - all the cuts, abrasions and bruises are being repaired by the rider’s body. The bad news, however, is that this repair process is hardly compatible with being able to ride in the mountains of the Tour.

So expect both to be hanging on, at least for a few days, assuming their physical injuries are not too painful to allow them to even ride. They’ll be limiting the losses until their “flu-like” symptoms and pain subside.