CHARTRES, France (Reuters) - When Lawson Craddock pinned his race number - 13 - on his Tour de France jersey last weekend, he had no idea just how unlucky it would be.
A crash in the opening stage left him with a bloodied face and a fractured scapula. Since then, the 26-year-old Texan has been riding through the pain.
“My body is fighting extremely hard just to recover from a broken bone, and when you add the toll the Tour de France naturally takes on one’s body, it’s quite a lot,” Craddock, his eyebrow still swollen from the crash, told reporters before the start of stage four.
After seven stages, Craddock may be firm favourite to remain the race’s ‘lanterne rouge’ or red lantern - the last rider in the standings, a full hour off the leader and about 17 minutes down on the second-last rider.
The EF Education First-Drapac rider, however, has turned his misfortune into fundraising.
For every stage he finishes, Craddock donates $100 to the Greater Houston Cycling Foundation, which runs the Alkek Velodrome after it was badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey last year.
He has also started an online fundraiser and after six stages has collected $40,000.
“That’s how I started cycling. When I was 10 I went out and did youth cycling league in the summer, and that’s how I got started,” Craddock said when asked about his link to the Alkek Velodrome.
“I started racing on a track for a few years before I transitioned to road, but was always was involved in track. I grew up 10 minutes away and have always held it near and dear to my heart.”
Seeing the support he has been receiving has helped Craddock ride through the pain following his crash.
“The biggest thing mentally is just all the support I have received. Ever since this thing I have donated money to the Alkek velodrome in Houston, Texas, or every stage I finished, just seeing the support I have received from everyone else is absolutely the biggest thing that is keeping me going, all the people pitching in to help out,” he explained.
“That blows my mind. When I see that, that’s what helps me push through stages. I’m definitely still in quite a bit of pain with my shoulder and my position on the bike, but it’s something I am trying to deal with and just push through.”
Some might question whether it is wise for Craddock to be racing at all, but his team doctor Kevin Sprouse defended his decision to keep going.
“It’s safe for him to be racing. The biggest concern is not necessarily the fracture... it’s how he can handle the bike. He says he can,” said his team doctor, Kevin Sprouse.
“He takes the same type of thing you can use at home: Paracetamol, Ibuprofen. He’s got a small fracture on the scapula but it’s stable, it’s not dangerous in any way. And the muscles around... they will spasm and guard that area. The pain he’s getting is from the muscles around the bone.”
While many riders would probably chuck away their bike and head for an early vacation, Craddock insists he was “raised as a fighter”.
“I grew up in Texas and that’s just what I have grown up to be. I just keep pushing my body as far as I can. Definitely at this point I am doing it for the others, doing it for the kids in Houston so they can have a good, safe environment to ride a bike in.”
Craddock is now even grateful he crashed in the feed zone of the first stage.
“When I got No. 13 I tried to tell myself it was lucky, but when I hit that bottle in the feed zone it was one of the first things that came into my mind,” he said.
“But at this point, something really great has come out of it. It is hard for me to sit there and complain about a broken shoulder when people are suffering and have not so much more than I have.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson