In a split second, the race of Larry Tomie’s life turned into his worst athletic moment.
And today, the 50-year-old Sault Ste. Marie cyclist is unsure as to whether he’ll ever ride again competitively.
Having suffered a broken left femur, also known as the thigh bone, two weeks ago after an accident in the Etape du Tour in France, Tomie is under prescribed bedrest.
“My goal is to return to cycling. I love it,” said Tomie, on extended leave from his position as a procurement specialist for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
But even Tomie, who has a couple of three-inch screws holding parts of his femur together, admits his cycling future remains up in the air.
The Etape du Tour offers serious cycling enthusiasts an opportunity to cycle the same course, under the same conditions, as the professional riders in the Tour de France, which concluded Sunday.
This year’s Etape du Tour, which was held on July 16, followed the same route as the Tour de France’s 15th stage, through Foix and finishing in Loudenvielle.
Riding along with the Sault’s Eric Piscopo in the third Etape du Tour for both, Tomie had completed all but 25 of the stage’s 200 kilometres.
He estimates traveling about 50-kilometres-per-hour while three-quarters of the way down the fourth of five major mountains.
“One minute I’m riding, the next I’m slammed down on my left hip and I’m sliding a short distance on the pavement,” said Tomie, who admitted he couldn’t figure out what had happened.
Later, Piscopo discovered what Tomie called “a little gully or trough,” in the road, which both riders now assume caused the accident.
Riding about 20 seconds behind his buddy, Piscopo came upon Tomie, who had dragged himself off to the edge of the road, but felt his skin burning on the heat-soaked asphalt.
“We’re good friends and, above all, it was tough to see a good friend fall,” said Piscopo. “I was really disappointed and sorry for him, but it’s part of sports. There’s always a risk element involved.”
Safety officials arrived shortly after Piscopo and carried Tomie into a shaded area off the course. After 15 minutes, Tomie said he finally convinced Piscopo to get back on his bike and finish the race.
The two planned to meet up again at the finish line.
With ambulances unable to get through the roughly 8,000 riders attempting to complete the race, Tomie was transferred by cargo van to the finish line where he received what he described as “incredible” care.
With his leg immobilized, Tomie was placed in an ambulance and taken 50k on mountain roads to a hospital in Almazan.
X-rays were taken and, while communication between English patient and French doctor was difficult, Tomie understood his physician to say his left hip was broken in three places.
“The doctor told me it was very serious and that I must have surgery within two days,” Tomie recounted.
But Tomie still didn’t know if Piscopo had any idea where he’d been taken.
Worse, he was unable to contact wife Adriana or daughter Erin, who were vacationing in Toronto, until the next day.
Tomie eventually managed to connect with Piscopo after contacting the organizer of the tour group both had travelled with to France.
Two days after he fell, Tomie was operated on and, fortunately, his femur and not his hip, was broken.
“I was real lucky,” said Tomie, who flew back to the Sault a week later. “The French people were absolutely fantastic to me and the treatment I received was unbelievable. It’s just unfortunate that Eric and I were enjoying the race of our lives.”
Tomie said past experience had finally given the pair the opportunity to excel under difficult conditions.
“It took us three years to build up the physical and mental strength to climb those mountains with confidence,” Tomie said. “We were doing really well.”
The 55-year-old Piscopo, despite stopping to care for Tomie, finished in nine hours and five minutes, good for 1,191st place out of 8,000 competitors.
“For the balance of the race and after it was over, the accident weighed on my mind,” Piscopo said. “After the accident I was much more cautious on the descents.”
Relegated to getting around on crutches and with a walker, Tomie said his goal now is simply to ride again. He’s unsure as to whether he’d tackle another Etape du Tour.
He questions whether he’ll regain the required nerve to compete after such a serious accident.
“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had in sports,” Tomie said. “But everybody tells me that if I’m a good boy during these next three months, anything (physically) is possible. But I have to be very, very careful. I can’t risk putting any weight on my leg.”
While again expressing his love for the sport of cycling, Tomie admitted the prospect of riding competitively again scares him.
“As I sit here,” he said, “I get sweaty just thinking of riding down Pine Street hill.”
“Hopefully, Larry has a complete recovery and gets back (to riding) in due course,” Piscopo said. “It takes a while to get back, but I’m sure Larry can do it.”