SUPER-BESSE, France (VN) – RadioShack officials defended the call to allow Chris Horner to finish Friday’s seventh stage at the Tour de France despite suffering a concussion in a late-race crash.
Horner hit the deck in the high-speed fall with about 40km to go that also took down teammate Levi Leipheimer and sent Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Remi Pauriol (FDJ) packing with broken clavicles.
The 39-year-old finished the stage more than 12 minutes back, but was immediately transferred to a local hospital for observation. He was diagnosed with a concussion, a broken nose and a hematoma to his calf . The recently crowned Tour of California champion will not start Saturday’s eighth stage to Super-Besse.
RadioShack team spokesman Philippe Maertens told VeloNews on Saturday morning that it was impossible to tell how badly Horner was injured until he crossed the finish line in Chateauroux. It was only then that RadioShack and Tour officials realized that Horner was dazed and not fully aware of what was happening.
“It is hard to immediately make a diagnosis immediately after a crash. Chris fell into the ditch and the first thing he said was, ‘put me back on the bike,'” Maertens told VeloNews. “It was only after he crossed the finish line that we realized the situation. At the finish line, he didn’t know where he was. He didn’t remember anything. It was a miracle that he finished the stage. Luckily, he had three or four other riders and they helped him get to the line.”
In the chaos of Friday’s crash, Horner fell into a ditch on the right side of the road and seemed to be lost in the shuffle as TV cameras focused on GC-contender Wiggins, who was on the other side of the road nursing a broken clavicle.
According to a report in the French daily L’Equipe, Horner briefly lost consciousness but quickly insisted on remounting his bike and continuing the race. Tour doctor Pascal Rivat was quoted in L’Equipe, saying: “I said what I thought (that he should stop). I let him continue, but I never left his side.” Rivat was seen checking on Horner from the doctor’s car during the remainder of the race and stayed close to the Horner group of riders until they crossed the line.
Once Horner crossed the line, officials and doctors quickly realized that Horner was dazed, groggy and not fully aware of what was happening. When VeloNews asked Horner how he was, Maertens interjected: “He cannot speak now! He doesn’t know where he is!” Horner was ushered to the RadioShack team bus, which was at the end of a long line of team buses parked on a straight road continuing past the finish line. Doctors placed Horner onto a stretcher and transported him to a hospital in Chateauroux.
Maertens said RadioShack team doctors stayed with Horner overnight and confirmed there are no life-threatening injuries.
“Scans revealed no life-threatening injuries. He didn’t remember anything, but we went to see him this morning and he’s smiling, he’s already coming back,” Maertens said. “Chris will stay in the hospital over the weekend and travel back to the United States only when it’s safe.”
Maertens posted a photograph of Horner from the hospital bed, quoting Horner as saying, “Next year I will be back in the Tour.”
Horner’s odyssey came on the same day that Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) abandoned the Tour. The classics star crashed hard in Stage 5 and was also feeling the effects of a blow to the head. Boonen said he made the decision to pull himself out of the race because he was a “danger to other riders.”
“I think I have a concussion. I have a terrible headache,” Boonen told Belgian journalists huddled outside the Quick-Step bus Friday at the finish line in Chateauroux. “I was a danger to the other riders in the race. It was better to pull out.”