They say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. If you’re a motorcycle racer, you need to add collarbones to that list.
Bike racers break collarbones, simple as that. Wrists too, because when you jump off a motorcycle at speed it’s usually a hand or shoulder that take the brunt of the impact.
The clavicle – to give the bone its anatomical title – is the strut that joins the shoulder blade to the sternum, so it’s just asking for trouble whenever you land on a shoulder or an outstretched arm.
Which is exactly what Jorge Lorenzo did at Assen and Dani Pedrosa did at the Sachsenring – they both landed on their left shoulders and broke their left collarbones. Their heroics in deciding to race with their injuries were awe-inspiring. Made me feel a bit queasy, too. And now – through recent x-rays – we’ve learned that Pedrosa’s collarbone wasn’t just partially fractured in Germany, it was fully fractured. So he raced at Laguna with a fully fractured and unfixed collarbone.
Collarbone breaks hurt like hell. I did both mine (and three wrists) while I was racing – the right one at Corams at Snetterton, the left at Turn Four at Jerez. That’s generally the way it is: you crash on a right-hander, you break the right collarbone, on a left-hander, the left.
At Snetterton I was sent home in a uselessly loose figure-of-eight bandage and left to get on with it. Physio was an almost unheard of concept in 1980. I recall unthinkingly trying to swat a fly a week or so later. Foolish thing to do – I was writhing around the floor in agony for the next five minutes. At Jerez I was wrapped in sticky bandage from my neck to my stomach, fixing the broken bone firmly in place. As a result, that bone is a lot less wonky than the other. The wonkiest collarbone I ever did see is Mick Doohan’s left, which joined so badly that the bone has a peak in its centre, standing about an inch proud of where it should be.
Doohan is still legendary for his pain resistance, but I always hated pain when I raced and I still do. Sadly, one of the most important factors in becoming a successful motorcycle racer is the ability to bounce back from huge crashes and agonising injuries that have your body screaming at your brain: Stop! Please stop! Please stop and take up football instead, or tennis, or heroin… anything! Doohan is the living proof of that – five 500 world titles after almost losing a leg to the surgeon’s saw.
Like Doohan, Pedrosa and Lorenzo have that ability to block out the pain. They wouldn’t be at the top if they didn’t have that slightly scary determination which allows them to ignore the pleading from their battered, bruised and broken bodies.
Of course, Pedrosa and Lorenzo at Laguna certainly weren’t the first bike racers to battle around the hillside circuit with a creaking collarbone, and they definitely won’t be the last. Following this year’s Laguna GP, former Grand Prix mechanic Hamish Jamieson reminded me of the exploits of Rolf Biland, the genius sidecar racer, at the 1991 US GP. Yes, they used to race sidecars at Laguna – they were quite a sight at the Corkscrew.
During Friday practice Biland and passenger Kurt Waltisperg ran over a passenger who had fallen out of his outfit – one of the many occupational hazards of being a sidecar passenger. Biland’s outfit flipped as he drove over the unfortunate passenger and, somewhat surprisingly, the Swiss ace was the worst hurt of the trio, with – you’ve guessed it – a broken collarbone.
While Jamieson repaired the badly crunched outfit with lock wire, Araldite and a rivet gun, Biland sat out Saturday practice, licking his wounds. But, being a top racer, come race day he decided to give it a go. So a paddock doctor strapped him up in a tight figure-of-eight bandage to keep the fractured bone apart, so the two parts of the bone didn’t grate against each other too much as he wrestled his Krauser outfit around the track. Then Jamieson dived into the team’s hire car and removed a lap seatbelt from the rear seat. He fitted the belt into the cockpit of the outfit to hold Biland back whenever he was braking. Biland climbed aboard, gritted his teeth and raced to fourth place. Ouch!