Australian pro cyclist David Tanner (IAM Cycling) remains in a Monaco hospital more than two weeks after a training crash he says he was lucky to survive.
Tanner had just completed a “full-gas interval” on a training climb near the French-Italian border and was descending when the incident occurred.
“I was going down a hill and a car was coming the opposite way and just turned left to go into a parking spot right in front of me,” Tanner told CyclingTips from his hospital bed. “So either they didn’t look or they didn’t see me.”
The 32-year-old Victorian doesn’t remember all the details — much of his recollection is pieced together from conversations he’s had with others since the crash. He does clearly remember one moment just before the impact though.
“At one moment I just screamed because I thought there was no way I could survive what’s about to happen,” he explained. “With everything I’ve hurt it’s just lucky I got out of it alive”.
Tanner’s injuries were significant. He shattered his scapula (shoulder blade), broke six ribs, and suffered a collapsed lung. He hit his head as well, but didn’t do any serious damage, while concerns about possible vertebrae fractures were, thankfully, later dismissed.
After the crash he was taken to hospital in San Remo where he described the treatment as “hell”.
“I actually had a full-gas meltdown on the Thursday,” Tanner said. “It was just so bad because I was in so much pain and the treatment was so shit.”
On September 30, his 32nd birthday, Tanner was transferred to hospital in Monaco, the microstate he calls home for much of the year.
“That was like the best birthday present I’ve ever had in my life,” Tanner said. “Since I’ve got here I’ve been in intensive care and it’s been amazing. They’ve been really friendly; they’re looking after me well. I speak French so that makes it easier as well.”
But despite the improved care, the recovery process has been slow and painful. Surgery to repair Tanner’s scapula had to be postponed due to his collapsed lung, which was accumulating blood. A tube was inserted through Tanner’s chest into his lung to drain the blood — an invasive and distressing procedure. Heavy pain medication clouded his thoughts for much of the first two weeks, and when he was able to think clearly, he found it hard not to worry about the road ahead.
With his IAM team closing at the end of the year, Tanner is out of contract. And with the crash coming so late in the season, the timing isn’t great.
“This whole year’s just been far from ideal — it’s been a really disappointing year,” Tanner said. “Every time I get good I get sick and things haven’t really worked out that well. Compared to last year it’s been an absolute disaster.
“I got sick before the Tour and before the Giro I was not good, so I cancelled the Giro. And the Classics — I had an average Classics. I had a knee injury in March, I missed heaps of training. So it’s just been one of those years you want to forget, you know?”
The crash is particularly frustrating because Tanner feels he was as strong this year as he’s ever been, albeit without much luck to go along with his form.
“My numbers as good as they’ve ever been, maybe even better in some places,” Tanner said. “I’ve been stronger [this year], but then every time I get really good on form I get sick or I have bad luck.
“[The crash] is just a shit way to finish off a shit year.”
It’s been 17 days since his crash, and now, finally, David Tanner is starting to make progress. His scapula seems to have fallen back into place, and surgery will probably no longer be required. The tube in his lung has been removed, he’s off supplementary oxygen and most of his pain medication, and he’s starting to get mobile again.
“On Monday they had me walking, and yesterday they actually even sat me on an exercise bike,” Tanner told CyclingTips on Wednesday. “So that part of it is completely OK.”
Tanner is looking into the possibility of coming back to Australia to do his rehab at the Victorian Institute of Sport. But his plans of racing the Tour Down Under and Cadel’s Race early next year will likely have to change.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen now,” Tanner said. “I need to work out what I’m doing first next year and then I’ll decide if I’m going to come back to Australia or not.”
David Tanner first joined the WorldTour ranks as a 26-year-old when he signed with the Saxobank-Sungard squad for the 2011 season. He spent two years with the setup, before joining Belkin/Blanco in 2013 and 2014.
In 2015 he made the move to IAM Cycling, joining the Swiss outfit in its first year on the WorldTour. He spent two years with the team and it was here that he won a stage of the Tour of Austria in 2015 — his career-best result.
And while Tanner has several professional victories to his name, he’s best known as a reliable and hard-working domestique. Tanner’s value as a teammate is his biggest asset and it’s his genuine desire to back a more able colleague than ride for himself that makes this so.
When asked previously about his proudest achievement Tanner’s character shines through: “There have been races where I was proud of myself because there were times were I could have snivelled in a seventh or an eighth, but I laid it on the line for the team instead,” he told CyclingTips in 2014.
Tanner had a realistic shot at victory from the break at the Amstel Gold Race in 2013 but devoted his efforts to Lars Petter Nordhaug, who Tanner said simply had more runs on the board than himself and deserved to be leader. Then later that year it was assisting Bauke Mollema’s stage victory in the 2013 Vuelta a España that delivered Tanner great satisfaction.
He still has a ways to go with his recovery, but Tanner’s adamant that the crash won’t have any lasting effects and that he’ll be back racing at his best before too long. It’s for this reason he asked IAM Cycling not to put out a press release about his crash.
“I didn’t want it for teams [to think] that it was going to ever affect my cycling, or I wouldn’t come back to the same level. [Because] that’s 100% not the case,” Tanner said. “I’ve just been really really lucky as far as that’s concerned, and that I’m alive actually, and that’s it’s all stuff that will heal up eventually.
“I’m still five years away from stopping cycling.”
Later this week David Tanner will leave hospital in Monaco and head down the Mediterranean coast to St Raphael where he’ll be based at a special rehabilitation centre for professional athletes. All going well, it won’t be too long before he’s back on the bike and back mixing it up in the professional peloton.
Interview by Wade Wallace, article by Matt de Neef.