When Lizzie Armitstead crashed on the opening stage of the 2015 Women’s Tour, one of the first people at the scene was Dr Will Mangar. Along with fellow doctor Matt Gray, these are two of the most important people in the race convoy. They are the guys who patch the riders up after crashes and spills.
Dr Mangar, a GP from Kent, and owner of a sports medicine company, Indurance, has been the Women’s Tour doctor since the race began last year. As well as the Women’s Tour he works on the men’s Tour of Britain and for Ride London.
Mangar has had years of medical training but it didn’t include treating cyclists while moving.
“You might have a rider needing to come back to the car, so they hold onto the car and we treat them while they are going along,” Mangar explains.
“Most riders are very smart at knowing how to hold onto a car and ride at 50km/hour. You can’t train yourself to treat a rider while moving. You just pick it up as you go along. The car roof goes down and we swap from side to side to treat whichever rider we need to, whether the problem is on the left or the right.”
Such a key role means that the race doesn’t go if there isn’t a doctor’s car in the convoy behind the commissaire president. Comprising race doctor one, race doctor two, a paramedic motorcyclist and a rapid response vehicle Mangar’s team ensures that there is coverage at all times.
Mangar summarises, “If there’s a crash we make a quick assessment of the situation, and if I need to, I stay with that rider while doctor two stays with the race and I catch up later. Doctor two is our rapid response doctor, Dr Matt Gray, an anaesthetist. He steps in depending on the situation.”
So how did they deal with the Lizzie Armitstead crash? Dr Mangar replies generally to preserve rider-doctor confidentiality.
“As soon as you arrive at a crash you make sure the rider has got good airways and they are breathing, they’ve got circulation, and they can talk. You also look at the mechanism of the injury, check for any head injury and make sure there is no neck problem.
“Then you do a general assessment of all lumps, bumps, arms and legs. The team works seamlessly and quickly and we try and get the rider back on their bike if possible. In Lizzie’s situation that wasn’t appropriate.”
Dr Mangar is all too aware of the need to respond rapidly in a live environment. “Cycle racing is one of the few sports where the public comes so close to the riders,” he says. “Anything can happen, and the Lizzie Armitstead crash was a freak occurrence. We always have to be prepared for the unexpected.”
For stage races the doctor is constantly on call. “We go around to the hotels and see the riders in the evening, and we may get called for anything – coughs, colds, sniffles, hayfever, saddle sores. Your work is never done!”
Indeed, it was reported in the press that Joanna Rowsell suffered a reaction following a wasp sting, Katie Curtis had a Crohn’s disease flare-up, and Coryn Rivera discovered she had a broken wrist having ridden stage two after coming down in the Armitstead crash.
Dr Mangar notes a palpable shift in the quality and skill level of the racing this year compared with last year and overall there have been fewer injuries, though he is very impressed at the riders’ resilience.
“We had a bad crash yesterday in the neutral zone. One of the Rabobank riders went down very heavily and was winded, but she got back on the bike. I am amazed at how tough these girls are. It takes a lot for them to not want to get back on their bike.”
Video: Women’s Tour stage one highlights