Rigoberto Urán is known for wearing a smile that seems to never fade, and as one of the lead riders within EF Education First Pro Cycling, many of his teammates enjoy working alongside him for his ability to remain calm when chaos blows in. But even for Urán over the past month, it’s been hard to keep that smile. On stage six at the Vuelta a España this year, Urán found himself at the bottom of a huge high-speed peloton crash. A crash that instantly saw himself, teammate and CCC rider Victor de la Parte forced out of the race. Hugh Carthy
Suffering from a broken left clavicle, fractured ribs, scapula, vertebrae, and a contusion to the lung, this wasn’t just a normal crash; it was the most serious cycling accident suffered in his long cycling career. Urán
“It’s been a tough few weeks,” Urán says. “Some of the most difficult, with all the pain and the complications and spending so much time in hospital. But not just that, it’s also been really difficult for my family, for them to have to see me like I was.”
As crashes unfold in a race, sometimes captured by TV cameras, it triggers a domino effect of emotion. People who arrive on the scene first, their teammates, sport directors, team doctors then family watching from home, these moments are tough to get through.
“You know they saw me in so much pain the day that I crashed,” Urán explains. “Especially Dani [Martínez], and when you see a teammate in that much pain it’s hard to continue on. Especially the first time you have to see that, it screws with you a bit, seeing someone on the floor and seeing them in so much pain. It’s a complicated situation and is hard on everyone.”
As the team tried to process the situation and carry on without their race leader, there were tough moments, but Urán commends them for the way they continued on. From his hospital bed, Urán’s main objective was to focus on his recovery and embark upon, for the second time in 2019, an injury comeback.
Race doctor Rick Morgan, who was working with the team at the Vuelta when Urán’s crash happened, explains how Urán’s surgery unfolded: “During surgery they took out the previous plate on his [left] collarbone and replaced it with another one that runs nearly the entire length of the collarbone. There is now also a metal plate on the left scapula to try and stabilize the shoulder and allow it to heal. The scars are looking good though, and are also healing well. But it will take time; we have to remember the surgery took six hours, it was a big operation.”
After a 20 day stay in a Barcelona hospital, on Sept. 17, Urán was finally allowed to return to his home in Monaco to continue his recovery.
“Everything is good. I’m slowly getting better,” Urán says. “I’m in Monaco at the moment, but I will have to return to Barcelona at the beginning of October, around the 10th, for an examination with my surgeon, Dr Mir. I will have to have another x-ray to see how everything is healing and if there will need to be another operation.”
As things are starting to stabilize for Urán, especially as the level of pain has dramatically reduced now, his days revolve around daily physiotherapy on his shoulder. He is required to do physio on his own and with a physiotherapist based in Monaco, the same one he worked with back in March after breaking the same collarbone in Paris-Nice earlier this year.
“Rigo is doing really well,” Morgan assures. “His pain is controlled and he’s doing regular physiotherapy. He’s doing what we call passive and active physiotherapy with a therapist and then on his own at home. The main focus is working on returning a full-range of motion to the shoulder and then working on his strength. There is certainly no hurry in getting him back on a bike, especially at this time of year, but we are not worried that he won’t make a full recovery” he explains.
For a lot of riders who are from outside of Europe this is the time of year they start to make migratory plans to head back to their home countries for the offseason. Currently as things stand, Urán will look to head back to Colombia toward the end of October. But first, he needs to receive sign-off from his surgeon, Dr Mir.
“After I have the examination with the doctors in Barcelona I will know more about when I can head back. At the moment I’m not able to take a long-haul flight while everything is still recovering, it makes everything a little more complicated,” Urán says.
Over the next few months, what’s key for him is plenty of time to rest and focus 100 percent on getting himself fit and healthy. If anything though, throughout what has been some of the toughest times he’s had to endure during his pro-cycling career, the overwhelming amount of support he has received has been a real morale booster.
“I have received so much support from everyone,” he says. “From friends, family, my followers, it really showed me just how much everyone cares, it was really beautiful. People taking time to write messages to me, it was such an amazing flow of good energy. This kind of thing really helps me a lot, it gives you so much motivation when you’re trying to recover,” he continues. With the energy and motivation that Urán has shown for overcoming challenges this year, one thing we can be sure of is that, that smile will be back in the peloton not before long.