It is not always easy to remember the following words when it comes to dealing with injuries. I feel kind of lucky as a cyclist: I have never suffered from major health problems, even if, on one occasion, I faced a long rehabilitation to return to racing.
At the 2014 Tirreno-Adriatico, I broke my fibula. Until then, I did not even know such a bone existed. Even now, I’m not really sure what it’s for. But that was sure to keep me away from the races and make my confidence waiver.
I was in my third year with Astana at the time, and I was not really fitting into the team, but at that moment in time, I could not find a better option. At Tirreno I felt I had my chance: it was the perfect race to prepare for spring Classics where I still felt I could have my say.
Then the fall: we were about 20km from the finish of the second stage in Cascina, and I ended up hitting a pole with my leg. It was really painful, but I still managed to pedal and got to the finish, albeit a little bruised.
At that night’s buffet dinner, I couldn’t take more than two steps without falling over. But I tried to pretend, especially to myself, that I was fine. The food table was so far away that I basically ate nothing that night.
The next morning, I went for an X-ray at the race’s mobile centre to check everything. I was felt good and was full of optimism, but the verdict was crystal clear: fracture of the fibula.
The world collapsed on me. It took a few minutes to recover. It wasn’t a death sentence, I know, but it was a really hard time for me. Without a real prospect of a team role, I did not feel valued.
The week before the race, I signed on a house and now I had the feeling my career was about to end. I got in the team car and after a while, I started crying. I remember Stefano Zanini, my directeur sportif at the time, trying to console me.
The stage kicked off without me and I stayed on the team bus until the finish. Already on the road, I started to relaxed: I accepted the problem and that I would come back – that somehow, my career would be put back on track.
After three weeks, I started training at home. I had to walk with crutches, but I could pedal. I returned to the races shortly thereafter, without being really ready, but slowly regained the ideal shape. Soon after, in August 2014, I signed a contract with Katusha as the last man who was needed for Alexander Kristoff.
Dealing with a problem when you know its entity, nature and reason is almost easy after that initial moment of loss. You know the recovery times (which nobody ever respects); you know that by doing X, Y and Z, you’ll be fine and you’ll return.
Worse is when the problem has contours, when you do not know what the causes are. Tendinitis, a virus, a heart problem (which seems a trend lately). With those problems you can ride and train, but every time you do it, you exacerbate your problem.
All the people around have the same wise advice: “Stop. Leave the bike alone for a few days to understand what you have.”
But we are all the same: we have 24 hours off and then get back in the saddle to “see how the body feels”. I myself have given that same advice and then never follow it once.
Accepting you have an injury or a problem that does not allow you to do your job is not easy. You always want to prove to yourself, or to someone else, that you can do it. That you do not give up and that nothing can stop you.
Sometimes it works, sometimes not. We try to be supermen but the fact is that we are only human after all.
NB: I am lucky, but here I would like to give three examples of colleagues and friends, who have not been so fortunate, but who have fought back:
-Marco Haller: his knee was in pieces in April 2018, by October he was in the breakaway at the Tour of Guangxi.
-Matteo Trentin: fractured vertebra in April 2018, European champion in August.
-Adriano Malori: He crashed in January 2016, they told him that he would no longer be able to ride a bike. I met him at the Giro della Toscana that September with a race number on his back.
I admire you, because you’re supermen.
Jacopo Guarnieri races for Groupama-FDJ