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‘In cycling you need a guardian angel’

Tour de France riders share the stories behind their good luck charms and inspirations.

The Tour de France is an exercise of endurance in every sense. It’s one thing to race against 171 other riders, wheel-to-wheel, for nearly 2,100 miles of mountains, hills, sprints, and cobblestones, through rain and blistering heat. It’s another to handle the stress. For 23 days, cyclists live like band members on a nationwide tour, staying in new hotels every night, sometimes an ocean away from their homes and loved ones.

Tour riders are some of the most physically specialized athletes in the world, but it takes more than training to survive. They must also be calm under pressure, fearless, and not just a little bit lucky. Every little thing — from a good luck charm, to a family photo, to a tattoo reminder of what’s most important — can help a rider make it to the finish line in Paris, surrounded by a cheering throng lining the Champs-Élysées.

Photographer Ryan Siu regularly travels to France to capture the Tour, and this year he collaborated with SB Nation to document the talismans that Tour riders carry with them for protection, and as reminders of the lives waiting for them them once their three grueling weeks in France are over. —Louis Bien, SB Nation associate editor

Lawson Craddock

Country: United States | Age: 26 | Team: EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale | Tours ridden: 2

Craddock broke his scapula on the very first stage of the 2018 Tour de France when he ran over a dropped water bottle in the road and crashed. At the time, the fact that Craddock was racing under No. 13 felt like an omen. He is still in the race, however, though he is in last place on the general classification. As he rides, he is raising money for the Alkek Velodrome in his hometown of Houston, with the help of a good luck charm.

“It was after [Stage 12 on the cobblestones]. One of my good friends in the peloton, Jasper Stuyven, his girlfriend was at the finish. She saw it, thought of me, and brought it to me. We’re good friends with both of them. It’s been on my backpack ever since, and brought me some good luck. Every day has been a little bit better, little bit better.”

Julien Vermote

Country: Belgium | Age: 28 | Team: Dimension Data | Tours ridden: 4

“My grandmother gave them to me. It’s actually a special story, because she was sick and when she felt she had to go. I was still Under-23, so I think it was [2009].

“She decided to say goodbye to the family. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I had left already in the morning to [the one-day French bike race] Paris-Tours, and then she gave the rosary to my father, she saw the whole family together. ... She saw everybody except me, so she gave it to my dad and he gave it to me at the start in the morning. Sunday morning I called my mom, and she said she’s between dead and alive.

“I did race with this — Paris-Tours — after the race it was still 500 [kilometers] back to where she was in Belgium. She was still alive, but really difficult. I was there at midnight, and I spent one hour with her. And when I left the room, five minutes later she died. So for me it was a emotional story.

“If somebody can wait one night and a day and survive to see you for one hour then die five minutes later, it’s like something special with her. I’m catholic as well and for me it’s kind of protection.

“In cycling you need a guardian angel. So much happens in the race you can’t — there’s so much in front of you and you’re responsible for everything. So sometimes you think it’s not too bad to have something around you. And for everybody it’s different, for me it’s this.”

Alejandro Valverde

Country: Spain | Age: 38 | Team: Movistar | Tours ridden: 11

Valverde is one of the elder statesmen of the Tour de France, a rider who has never hesitated to animate the race. The “Green Bullet” has finished on the Tour podium just once, but he still seems to be involved in every major attack, with a deadly kick that makes him a threat to win every stage he races, even at an advanced age.

[Through a translator] “One of them is a charm from his wife. He always remembers her. The other one is from religion, Spanish rosario. I think eight years ago. The Spanish rosary.”

Jack Bauer

Country: New Zealand | Age: 33 | Team: Mitchelton-Scott | Tours ridden: 5

“It’s called a pounamu. It comes from a rock called greenstone. Pretty generic back home. You only find it on the south island off the west coast of New Zealand, which is where I’m from.

“It’s something you don’t buy, it’s something that’s gifted to you, and it’s gifted as good luck, as a token, as strength, as success. So this comes from a big piece of greenstone that was gifted to the New Zealand team to the London 2012 games.

“Every athlete got one of these carved out of a single stone, so that was a couple hundred of course, a big thing. And this is mine. So that’s been weighing me down for the last six years. [Laughs]. And it’s pretty special, as it was my first appearance — my only appearance — at the Olympics. It’s come with me ever since.

“My good wife actually dropped it on the floor last year, and the thing broke in half. But a friend of mine ... he’s a stone carver, and he pieced it together with a bit of silver so it lives on. I think it’s stronger than it was before. It’s got some stories to tell, this one.

“She’s a weighty thing so I do wonder whether I should be wearing it, slapping around going up hills. You got to be careful it doesn’t knock you in the teeth when you’ve got your zip down. But no, I really like this thing, and it comes with me wherever I go.”

Yoann Offredo

Country: France | Age: 31 | Team: Wanty-Groupe Gobert | Tours ridden: 2

Offredo is riding in just his second Tour de France as a rider of one of four wild card teams hand selected every year to compete against the 18 top-level World Tour teams.

“It’s a picture of my family, because there is always a lot of public on the Tour de France, but sometimes you are alone, and it’s a good thing for me to have my family with me. Because sometimes when you don’t feel good, when it’s hot, when you have pain in your legs, ‘OK,’ you think, ‘it’s only cycling, and the most important thing is my family and my two daughters.’”

Chad Haga

Country: United States | Age: 29 | Team: Sunweb | Tours ridden: 1

In January 2016, Haga and several Team Sunweb riders, then called Giant-Alpecin, were struck head-on by a car driving in the wrong lane while on a training ride. Haga had to be airlifted to a hospital after suffering neck and facial injuries. That same year, his father passed away.

“My own life, my near death in January of 2016, and my dad, his passing in June of the same year from cancer that he did nothing to deserve. It really taught me that life can end at any moment. And with my faith in Christ that my salvation is assured, and so don’t hold back, live life to the fullest.

“It’s actually a song lyric from a band I listen to. The band is called Demon Hunter, they’re a Christian metal band. But that line is always stuck in my head, that ‘Eternity gained only life remains.’”