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Wimbledon Clinics

Off road and personal… with David Hulse, former doctor for the Tour of Britain

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Former race doctor for the Tour of Britain, David Hulse is Wimbledon Clinic’s newest recruit – as well as being a consultant in sport and exercise medicine (and a mad-keen cyclist). We grilled him about his life in cycling, and the – somewhat surprising – kit that he can’t be without…

How did you get into cycling?

I was brought up in a family that always had bicycles, and from an early age I can remember cycling along the country lanes near Cambridge, where we lived. I’ve not been without a bike since!

How did you come to be a race doctor?

I trained as an orthopaedic surgeon, so I was dealing with trauma and injuries on a daily basis. When the first Tour of Britain professional cycling race ran in 2004, I volunteered to put arrows up on lampposts around the five-day route. Myself and a guy who was an ex-police driver found ourselves touring the country in a white van, shimmying up lampposts to attach yellow signs with zip-ties in heavy traffic! When the organiser of the tour joked that he would try to find a more glamorous job for me if I was interested in returning the following year, I said “Sure, how about race doctor?” He said, “Can you do that?” And that was my interview. I was the race doctor for the Tour of Britain from 2005 to 2009.

What does being a race doctor involve?

As a race doctor, you have the vantage point of following the riders in a car with emergency equipment, and have to be prepared to leap out of the car and deal with the aftermath of any crashes that occur. I quickly learned that you also have to provide on-the-road first aid whilst in a moving car! There’s a great photo of me bandaging up a rider at 40mph with my entire torso hanging out of the window of a Honda Civic.

Any other career highlights?

In 2010, I was a team doctor for a top professional road cycling team. The job involved the daily care of professional riders as they raced on the roads of Europe. It was a very different challenge to being a race doctor: in addition to managing injuries on the road, you’re dealing with the usual coughs, colds and hay-fever that cyclists have, all of which can have an effect on their ability to ride. Plus, you’re staying a different hotel every night, in a moving convoy of vehicles and equipment. It’s a logistical feat!

How did you get into rehabilitation?

I subsequently trained in sport and exercise medicine and, in 2010, worked as an injury rehabilitation specialist with the military, at Hedley Court in Surrey. However, I maintained an interest in cycling biomechanics and education around bike fitting, hence my role at Wimbledon Clinics. Cycling is brilliant because it is non-impact (so long as you don’t fall off!). It is very gentle on joints, and can therefore be enjoyed by people who might be unable to run or jog. What’s more, it can be used as a rehabilitation tool – even in people who have had knee surgery or joint replacement.

Who is your average client?

There’s been an explosion in the popularity of cycling over the last ten years, so – typically – it’s the middle-aged man in Lycra! But these guys aren’t just floating around Surrey on very expensive bikes – they’re interested in the training element, the nutrition and the physiological training. They are willing and keen to invest a lot in their recreation.

What’s the most challenging ride you’ve committed to?

I rode from Manchester to London in 2015 with the cycling brand Rapha, in aid of the charity Ambitious about autism. We covered about 200 miles in one day. I’ve also ridden in the annual L’Tape du Tour, which allows riders to cycle a stage of the Tour de France. I took place back in 2006 – that year, the ascent finished at the top of the famous climb of Alp D’Huez. The heat that day made it particularly gruelling!

What kit do you rely upon?

Aside from my helmet, padded cycling shorts! They not only improve overall comfort but they also reduce the risk of some, let’s say, skin problems in the saddle area! Like helmets, cycling shorts also come in a range of prices and styles – so there’s no need to wear tight, Lycra shorts if that doesn’t appeal.

Have you ever injured yourself through cycling?

I once broke my collarbone – through an unexpected coming-together with a van whilst cycling on the road. It’s a common injury for cyclists as the force of the fall is through the shoulder, and the collarbone tends to be the first to go. Professional riders often have their collarbones fixed with plates and screwed to enable them to get back to training very rapidly, however mine was treated without surgery and went on to heal in about six weeks.

How can cyclists stay injury-free?

Make sure your bicycle works for your body shape – it will increase your enjoyment of riding it whilst also decreasing the risk of overuse injuries. One of the most common causes of knee pain from cycling is saddle height: if your saddle is too low, it significantly increases force through the knee joint. If, however, the saddle is too high, that can lead to tendon problems at the back of the knee. Finally, enjoy riding! There’s a saying that goes, ‘The best bike to ride tis the bike you currently own’, which is a nice way of saying that is doesn’t matter what sort of bike you ride, where you ride it, or how you ride it – just make sure that it is the right fit for you, and enjoy riding it. Then the sky’s the limit!