Come Back, Kid

A life-threatening injury sidelines America's next great hope

Tour Guide

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SAUL RAISIN
Age: 23
Team: Crédit Agricole (France)
TDF Finishes: 0

CYCLISTS, AND ESPECIALLY stage racers, generally peak in their late twenties to early thirties. There are exceptions—Jan Ullrich became one of the youngest-ever Tour de France winners in 1997, at age 23—but for the most part, any discussion about riders in their early twenties inevitably involves the word "potential." And recently no American rider seemed to have more of it than 23-year-old Saul Raisin. "Saul is the future of American cycling," Levi Leipheimer told Outside earlier this year. "I see him riding with the best in the mountains of the Tour someday." Indeed, Raisin was coming off a breakout season and had kick-started his 2006 campaign with a win in the toughest stage of January's Tour of Malaysia. "I feel like an equal to the other pros," the Georgia native told us on April 2. "They might be older or stronger, but primarily I just think I have a lot to learn."

Two days later, during the first stage of France's Circuit de la Sarthe, Raisin suffered a horrific crash that left him fighting for his life. While he lay in a French hospital recovering from a broken rib and collarbone and a slight concussion, a bruise under Raisin's skull burst, and he was placed in a medically induced coma to reduce the pressure on his brain. Doctors were unsure whether he would survive the night and, if he did, what permanent damage he might have suffered. Within days, though, Raisin was well enough to respond to questions and, to the chagrin of his doctors, remove his respirator while no one was looking. It will be months before doctors can assess Raisin's long-term prospects. But he was strong enough to return to Georgia on May 1 to begin his long rehabilitation.

Raisin started racing at age 13 and quickly climbed through the junior ranks. He took the best-young-rider award at the 2003 Tour de Georgia as a member of the domestic Ofoto-Lombardi team. That performance landed him a 2004 contract with French ProTour team Crédit Agricole, where he quickly proved himself a more well-rounded stage racer than even Lance Armstrong at that age—Armstrong specialized in one-day races early in his career—and also one capable of bouncing back from injury. He finished ninth overall at last year's Tour of Germany, just three months after breaking his hip when a motorcycle ran him off the road during a race in France. It's too early to tell whether Raisin can make another comeback. Still, American cyclists have a knack for overcoming life-threatening experiences. Greg LeMond won his second and third Tours de France with shotgun pellets in the lining of his heart, and Armstrong has repeatedly stated that he would never have won the Tour had he not gotten cancer. Raisin, meanwhile, already seems eager to rejoin the peloton. Just a day after arriving home, he was back to posting on his blog (www.saulraisin.com). Among his first comments: "Too bad I'm not doing the Giro."

The Bottom Line: Shameless Tour Promotion From the Experts
"Cycling is still cycling with or without Armstrong. It's a magnificent sport . . . In track and field, you run ad nauseam in a circle. In cycling, at least you get to travel."

Bernard Hinault—five-time Tour de France winner

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