from small hassles to serious injuries, how does the head doctor treat the runners during the stages?

If you are an assiduous Tour de France fan, you must have already seen this busy blonde hair at the imaginary window of her white convertible, patching up at 50 km/h a runner bruised by a fall. Florence Pommerie has been the head doctor of the Tour de France since 2010.

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A long-time hospital doctor at Samu 93, the sixty-year-old was in charge of repatriation to the Dakar rally when ASO, the organizer, offered her to head the medical team for the Tour de France. “If I had been told that I would be the medical director of the Dakar rally and the chief medical officer of the Tour de France, frankly, I would never have imagined it! It’s a combination of circumstances, but I like sport. We are a doctor, so the human body pushed to the extreme, it is very interesting physiologically”explains Florence Pommerie.

For twelve years, she has been traveling France in her white car with the blue cross to help runners. When the fall shakes their calabash and scratches their skin, it is their first aid. You have to act quickly, because you can’t drag on in the fury of the Tour. I’m sorting a bit: we have a fairly short time so we look and decide if we bring the rest of the ambulances up or not, she reveals. On the Tour, everything is meticulous, and the order of priority in the line of cars is very strict: “The sporting directors know that in the event of a fall, it is absolutely necessary that they push themselves and that they let at least an ambulance arrive on the scene.”

Florence Pommerie rescues Colombian Darwin Atapuma in the 2014 Tour de France. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Her voice may be rather thin, her calm tone, Florence Pommerie imposes. She manages a total of thirty people. “We have doctors, nurse anesthetists, a physiotherapist and a surgeon for emergencies in the race. We have three Samu-type ambulances, two trucks equipped with resuscitation equipment, and an emergency doctor on a motorcycle”she lists in her head.

With each edition, novelties come to reinforce the medical arsenal. “For a few years, we have had a truck at the finish, with radiologists specialized in traumatic ultrasoundssays the head doctor. Next year, we should have a scanner. It allows runners to remove a doubt and not run to the emergency room”.

During the collective falls, the shambles of bicycles in the ditch and runners knocked on the tarmac obliges Florence Pommerie to intervene in two stages. “Often it gets up, they have sores and they leave. They don’t want to hang around! We have very little time, or even none at all, so they come later to the convertible, when things have calmed down a bit.”continues the head doctor.

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After having thus regained their senses, the runners come to have their most visible wounds healed. “These are very succinct treatments: we disinfect, we protect the wounds. But you have to be careful, you are not allowed to touch the bike”warns Florence Pommerie.

The head doctor also sometimes provides psychological support. During the ordeal experienced by Marc Soler (UAE-Team Emirates), sick and finally out of time, we could see the runner talking to the emergency doctor. “We talk, but not for hours either. We help them a little, they can come and see us”she says.

Florence Pommerie (in the background) in discussions with Patrick Bevin (BMC) during the Tour de France 2018. (MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

The medical team then hands over to the team doctors, who alone decide on the future of the sore runner. “We give them an opinion. Then it all depends on whether he’s a leader or not, because some come to win. You don’t treat a leader the same as someone else. These are strategic thoughts, but they don’t don’t belong to us”, she continues.

By dint of sharing their wounds, Florence Pommerie ended up forging a bond with these bitumen convicts. “I have great admiration for them, it would be abnormal not to have it. We see them climbing, we are exhausted for them! It’s a sport that is humble, where they don’t have big heads”says the doctor. “We learn a lot. They challenge each other every day, they’re disappointed, it’s not going the way they want… There’s only one sport that lasts like that for three weeks!”she recalls.

Inevitably, in twelve years of care, Florence Pommerie has also experienced a few moments of solitude, which she enjoys. “I happened to get the wrong cold bomb while treating Sylvain Chavanel. It had foamed up as if it were shaving foam! And what’s more, it wasn’t the right shoulder…”

“Julian Alaphilippe came to tell us during the race that he had chickenpox. We then asked him if he had a fever. He assured us that no, but that he had lots of red pimples. We almost put five minutes to understand that it’s because he had the polka dot jersey…”

Florence Pommerie, head doctor of the Tour de France

at franceinfo: sport

More than the French, the one who is responsible for the Covid-19 tests imposed by the UCI on rest days has taken a liking to a runner in particular. “I’m quite happy to have seen Chris Froome again on the podium at Alpe d’Huez. It’s really the spirit of those who don’t give up. It’s brave all the same, it’s not easy what that he lived”, emphasizes Florence Pommerie with a tender smile. “OWe took care of him when he fell on the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2019. It was painful, we knew that all of this risked handicapping him for a long time”, she continues.

Arrived in 2010 on the Tour, does Florence Pommerie see a difference between the Grande Boucle of this time and that of 2022? “There has been a real ecological awareness for three or four years, with the cans, the efforts that are made with the garbage cans. It shows a lot”, she judges. At just 60 years old, she is aiming for a few more editions before hanging up. “We’ll see, as long as we’re in good shape. But there comes a time when you have to train people”. Then will come the time to “enjoy the rest”.

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