“But still, like air, I will rise.”
— Domenico Pozzovivo, after a near-fatal training crash in August 2019.
By John Wilcockson | Images by Chris Auld
Last week in the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, one page was devoted to an interview with veteran climber Domenico Pozzovivo prior to his starting a 19th grand tour. The piece was titled: “Lo, I have 20 screws in my arm, but I’ll race the Tour.” The smiling Pozzovivo, 37, was pictured in a thumbs-up pose, wearing his royal blue-and-black NTT Pro Cycling Team jersey and holding a black BMC racing bike.
Also on the page were images of him after crashes he suffered in the 2015 Giro (brief concussion, cranial-facial injury and 25 stitches around his right eye), the 2019 Flèche Wallonne (concussion and multiple abrasions) and a head-on collision with a car when training last August near his home in the far south of Italy (fractured clavicle, humerus and ulna in his left arm; fractured tibia and fibula in his right leg). Pozzovivo broke the same tibia and fibula in a 2014 accident when he fell while avoiding a cat as he descended the Stelvio Pass in training. Last August’s collision threatened his career and left him with those 20 screws in his arm when the Tour de France began last Saturday in Nice.
As we all know, about half of the 176-rider peloton would crash on the opening stage when the first rain for months turned many of the road surfaces into a slick mix of oil and diesel. But an early rain shower had moved on when the peloton sped along the coast after the first 39.5-kilometer loop into the hills above Nice. Next to the 2-kilometer-to-go banner, a few spectators were standing between crowd barriers and the line of palm trees on the Promenade des Anglais. One of those fans was leaning over the barrier taking photos on his smartphone. That resulted in these words later noted by Pozzovivo on Instagram: “Thanks to the spectator who thinks it’s okay about taking a selfie; he caught me flush on the helmet with his phone, knocking me and 20 other racers down at over 50 km/hr, destroying my elbow again!”
Bodies, bikes and bottles were scattered along the blacktop. As riders struggled upright, some holding injured backs and shoulders, Pozzovivo remained stuck on the road. He was straddled by Team Movistar’s Imanol Erviti trying to pull his bike free from the fallen Italian, while NTT teammate Max Walscheid tried to disentangle Pozzovivo’s bike.
Pozzovivo and Walscheid chased back to the peloton, although two of their teammates, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ryan Gibbons, got caught in later pileups. “I came into the race nursing a broken rib on my left side…and went down on my left side again…on the same spot,” reported South African national champion Gibbons said. “The doctor…is stitching up Pozzovivo so he’ll check my shoulder later.”
Pozzovivo needed two stitches in his left elbow, the cut so deep the doctor could see the metal plate inserted last year. Extensive road rash on his lower left leg, knee and hip and right elbow also required bandaging. He fought hard to stay with the leaders on the mountainous stage 2 until partway up the final climb and crossed the line with Jumbo-Visma’s George Bennett in 40th place, only 1:14 behind the Tour favorites. After another hour of treatment, sleep came flittingly that night and Pozzovivo was in a lot of pain on the long, rolling sprint stage to Sisteron, when the pace and stress of sticking in the peloton limited any chance to rest and recover.
On the following stage, climbing to Orcières-Merlette, Pozzovivo again showed his grit, this time completing the last part of the uphill with Trek-Segafredo’s Kenny Elissonde to take 35th just 1:15 back. And on Thursday’s demanding stage 6 to the Mont Aigoual summit, he stayed with the strongest climbers to finish 29th on the stage in the same time as all the race favorites.
On Instagram, where he has 29,000 followers, Pozzovivo says he’s a pro road cyclist, an economist (he has a university degree), pianist, weatherman and student. And considering the way he has come back from frightening crashes and debilitating injuries, time after time after time, he can now justifiably add “true survivor” to that list.