The Tour de France is full of stories of amazing endurance and absurd suffering. The US press focuses on the US riders, when we have a good one and lots of the other stories are lost. (Try to find a good story on Zabel vs. O'Grady and the green jersey on the last day...)

Always there are crashes and they are one of the main reasons that the 20 or so 9-man teams get whittled down to 150 or so riders by the end. Not even the favorites are exempt - Ullrich took a frightening fall this tour, while Lance was a gentleman and waited for his rival...

In the 1951 Tour, Van Est wearing the yellow jersey takes a descent too fast and takes a 30-foot fall - his second fall of the day. A picture shows him openly weeping on a rock - filthy from the tumble and his face contorted in a grimace that looks like the exagerated facepaint of a sad clown.

For me it's one of those photos that is in its own way like other famous photos of the extremity of the human condition. The torture of a thousand knives photo which Bataille and Cortazar made reference to. The 'Thrill of Victory - Agony of Defeat' footage of that skier which graced the opening of ABC's Wide World of Sport circa 1976.

After his three story fall and the difficult climb with the bike back up, Van Est wanted to continue, though he was clearly in bad shape. He fought those who tried to put him in the ambulance but the Tour was done for him.

Hundreds of other stories - Hinault, the Badger with broken nose and cracked ribs (and subsequent bronchitis)going on to not only finish but to win the Tour...

An amazing event - all about self-willed suffering on a grand scale... and Van Est one of its many patron saints.

(photo is on

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