Rudy Molard sits on the group at the finish of a Vuelta España stage. His legs are drawn up slightly toward his chest and his arms rest on them as he turns his head to look toward the camera.

Rudy Molard has a crash-sized hole in his memory

Weeks after a brutal crash at the Tour Down Under, the Frenchman is still grappling with his recovery from concussion.

Molard at the 2023 Vuelta a España.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 06.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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You’ve probably seen the pictures by now: Luke Plapp in National Champion’s kit, shredded and bloodied, after a fast crash at the Tour Down Under. But it wasn’t just Plapp that was caught up in the carnage – in the tangled pile of bodies and bikes were a couple of Astana Qazaqstan riders (Dmitriy Gruzdev and Michele Gazzoli) and Cameron Scott of Bahrain Victorious. 

As tends to be the case in the cut and thrust of a bike race, the TV footage moved on and so did the photographers, to the point that nobody much – commentators or image metadata alike – picked up on the fact that at the bottom of that pile was Groupama-FDJ’s Rudy Molard. Only if you really look at the few photos that emerged of the crash can you see a hint of royal blue at the bottom, and, in some shots, a race doctor kneeling to address a space where an ailing Frenchman lay.

Even bad road rash heals relatively fast, and Plapp was racing again by the following week. But some injuries are less immediately visible, and Molard was left nursing a concussion so severe he was unable to return home until some two weeks after the crash.

Now back in France, Molard reflects on his experience, which included 48 hours in hospital and time under general anaesthetic to allow medical staff to clean his wounds and have his dressings changed. Initially, Molard said in a statement posted to the team’s social media accounts, the wounds were superficial “although the ones on my hands are really bothering me. The concussion, on the other hand, is really annoying. I’ve got headaches and I’m tired.” Rather than travelling home to recover, Molard was too unwell to make the journey, and instead followed the rest of the team to Melbourne where they prepared for Cadel’s Great Ocean Road Race. 

“I’ve never had a concussion before, so I know risks are not to be taken lightly,” Molard said. “I have no memory of the crash, which is quite significant.” 

An Instagram post from Rudy Molard after his crash. He's in a hospital bed taking a selfie and his face is still bloodied and bruised. His chest is covered in EKG leads that are no longer attached to machines. His left shoulder has a large area of road rash and his knuckles are skinned as he gives a weak thumbs-up to the camera.

While Groupama-FDJ continued its Australian campaign – capped with a sterling victory from Laurence Pithie at Cadel’s Race – Molard was trying to get his head right. “I have to avoid screens … in any case, after 3 or 4 minutes, I feel I have to put the phone down… I manage to go for short walks around the hotel.” In Geelong, he saw a concussion doctor, and continues to be monitored by team doctors and neurologists specialising in sports concussion. 

“The team gave me a lot of support and my girlfriend received a lot of news from the staff and also from the riders,” Molard said in a statement for Escape Collective. “It’s nice to feel supported at such a difficult time … Jussi [Veikkanen], our sport director, has done an enormous job and I’d like to thank him for that, he’s looked after me really well.”

Molard rides off the front at the 2023 Tour Down Under. He is all alone, perhaps 50 meters in front of the pack and has a slight smile on his face.
A happier Molard at the Tour Down Under a year earlier.

Traumatic brain injuries offer uncertain timelines for recovery, and almost three weeks after his crash, Molard has yet to return to the bike. “I don’t know when I’m going to start riding again, but I should be back on the home trainer soon,” the Frenchman told Escape. “I’m starting to feel better and I’m on the right track.”

It’s clearly a frustrating start to the season for Molard. “It puts the brakes on the first part of my season. I felt fit and capable of performing,” he said in the initial statement on social media. When his head is back in the game, he continued, “[I’ll] come back with even more motivation”. Until then, all he can do is cut down on screen time and serve as the latest cautionary tale of concussion risks.

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