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The day I became a "real cyclist"

The University of São Paulo campus where I work resembles a small city making it an excellent place to train for runners and cyclists alike. There is a roundabout that measures 500 m around that is a focal point meeting point for cyclists to warm up and train hard. Almost three weeks ago I was training there on a Thursday night, a popular night for cycling, pushing the pedals hard alongside a couple of hundred other cyclists. Having notched up my training since August, my fitness was at its peak as evidenced by my VO2max of 64.5 ml/kg/min (equivalent to an endurance trained cyclist; Jeukendrup et al., 2008), which I had proudly bragged about to anyone who would listen. I was powering round at speeds in excess of 40 km/h, occasionally stealing people’s slipstream before powering past unable to be caught. After a couple of hours of hard cycling, I was coming to the end of my workout, dropping to about 30 km/h for a cool down. At this point a mini peloton whizzed past at breakneck speed leaving me with only one thought: “one final sprint”. I got up out of my seat, gripped the handlebars tightly and started chasing. Accelerating rapidly, I edged out into the middle of the road to overtake some slower cyclists, cheekily cutting in front of another cyclist to my right. Then, something happened that I would never have imagined. As I pushed hard, there was a popping sound as the stem of my bicycle broke, and in almost comical cartoon fashion, time stood still as I raised the handlebars to my face and thought, “uh oh”. Then I fell. Hard.

The broken stem of my bicycle; I guess sometimes I don't know my own strength!

After two seconds of flight, half a dozen rolls and a number of expletives, I came to a stop in the middle of the road with my bicycle several metres away. Lying on my back, I took several moments to process what had happened, allowing my breathing to return to normal and trying to assess whether I was in one or a number of pieces. I could immediately tell that something wasn’t right around my left shoulder. I went to unclick my helmet but couldn’t do so with my left arm so did it with the right. By this time a congregation of about twenty cyclists had accumulated around me, kindly redirecting traffic and clearing my bike off the road. Although they informed me that an ambulance had been called, a week earlier following a similar incident, no ambulance ever arrived, thus they suggested I try to get up. Tentatively trying to move my body parts, I informed them I thought something was wrong around my left shoulder. All of sudden, a number of cyclists started harking up.

“It’s probably just your collarbone mate; I’ve broken mine four times”

“I’ve broken mine three times”

“Me five!”

It was at this point that I realised I had joined the ranks of the true cyclists. A highly common injury within this population, it’s quite rare to find a trained cyclist who hasn’t experienced this type of injury. Indeed, some consider it a prerequisite to be considered a real cyclist. Nonetheless, at the time this was scant comfort as I struggled to my feet with the help of several fine folk and noticed my collarbone was slightly more elevated than usual. At this point I was still hoping that it wasn’t broken but deep down I knew the protrusion was telling me otherwise. As my arm was secured, another bloke advised me to have surgery as he had opted out following a collarbone break and had lived to regret it. I thanked him for his sound advice and was whisked away to the hospital by campus security.

It was obvious that something wasn't right...

X-rays confirmed the collarbone fracture and, as expected, surgery was recommended to ensure the greatest chance of full recovery. It is now almost two weeks since surgery took place and my recovery is going well but I am absolutely itching to get back on the bike. However, I realised that this is still many weeks away. I feel my VO2max plummeting as I type but will begin training on my laboratory’s ergometer this week to ensure I am fit and raring to go when I get back on my real bike (who will go in for her own surgery this week). In the meantime, I want to thank all the kind cyclists who helped me following my tumble, particularly the kind person who took my bike to the laboratory and Enzo, who, despite not knowing me, came to the hospital to check I was OK and had a lift home. Cyclists get a bad rep for being arrogant and smug but their concern for me was real and I cannot wait until the next time I join them around the USP campus again, safe in the knowledge no one can question my status as a “real cyclist”.

The break was confirmed by x-ray

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