One year ago, Alberto Bettiol and the EF Education First squad won the big one.…
By his mid-twenties a persistent running injury would prematurely end his running career. It was the catalyst to him swapping his kicks for a set of wheels as he entered the world of professional cycling. Having ruined one career through injury, he says he won’t make the same mistakes again whilst he’s recovering from a broken femur after crashing on stage five of Paris-Nice. He knows that too much too soon can mean not coming back at all.
Three weeks post crash and he’s started pushing the pedals again on his Tacx trainer indoors and offering himself up as fair game for people on Zwift. “Now there’s an opportunity for people to drop me for a change,” Woods laughs. “I’m getting passed by everyone on Zwift right now.”
Joking aside, Woods knows that the journey ahead to full recovery is a long one. This kind of injury takes the body a lot of energy and rehabilitation to heal. “It’s a really difficult injury to come back from,” team doctor Jon Greenwell explains. “You lose a lot of muscle mass in the leg, which means you lose a lot of strength.” To help him regain that strength he has a team of experts behind him from Greenwell, to his coach Paulo Saldanha, along with our physio and nutrition teams.
Goals for the season are constantly changing for all of the WorldTour peloton with the current situation. For the moment Woods is taking things week-by-week, relishing each little step of progress. “When I was able to get on the bike it was just so nice, I was buzzing afterwards, even though it was just 15 minutes at a 50 watt average, it was just lovely to move the leg and be a bit more active,” he says.
It’s three weeks post crash, and Greenwell is pleased with his progress. “He’s ahead of our expectations, we’re almost having to slow him down a little bit,” he said. Too much too soon can easily derail progress, especially when Woods even admits the significant improvement has meant almost occasional lapses in concentration and nearly attempting to walk on his leg. He may have made it back onto the static trainer but he’s still not able to walk and bear weight on his right leg for another month. “Crutching around,” as Woods calls it, will still be his prime mode of transport for a few weeks to come.
When I was able to get on the bike it was just so nice, I was buzzing afterwards.
A serious crash not only means physical rehabilitation, there’s the mental process to go through too. Every rider will ask themselves if it’s possible to come back, when will it be possible to come back or even if they want to race again; keeping motivation levels high can be tough. “At the moment I’m finding motivation in the fact that the Olympics have been postponed to 2021,” Woods says. “The World Championships also look like they’re going to happen in September, and those were the two biggest goals for me this season, and now I think I can certainly be back 100 percent for both of them.”
Greenwell agrees. “There’s no reason that if everything goes to plan he will not be fit for the World Championships [in September]”. Which are the words of encouragement that Woods will digest and hold onto in his coming months of recovery.
“I’m lucky in a way by having the experience of ruining one athletic career by not doing it right in the recovery process, and it’s taught me some valuable lessons,” Woods says. Although he has September in his mind as his goal to be back racing, he knows that injuries such as these can have their setbacks and he’s ready for any that come his way. “I’ve set a date for when I want to be back by but it’s not set in stone, so if anything pops up I’m not going to rush it, I’m just going to take it as it comes.”
As his season has been put on hold, alongside the rest of the peloton’s, the silver lining of that is having more time at home to spend with his newborn daughter, Max, and wife Elly.
“I was so focused on this season, on the Olympics, on the Tour de France, the World Championships, but that focus and that hard work was at the detriment of me being present with my family,” Woods says. “I think this injury has been a nice way of rebooting the body and spending time with Max, looking at her, looking into her eyes and watching her smile,” he gushes. “She’s been a lovely little couch partner.”