Mountain bikers bouncing back from injury

While injury is an occupational hazard for cyclists of all disciplines, learning how to deal with it is part of the make-up of a sports professional. Being able to bounce back and race again is paramount, and for some mountain bikers the revised 2020 race calendar for UCI events aligns better with their recovery timelines.

Cross-country comebacks

2017 cross-country Olympic (XCO) UCI World Champion and 2018 UCI World Cup overall winner Jolanda Neff is back on her bike after a crash in late January left her with a ruptured spleen, amongst other nasty injuries.

“I misjudged a downhill corner on a trail that was new to me during my training ride and I went off track and over the bars, falling into a pile of logs,” the Swiss rider explained soon after. “I immediately knew something was wrong.”

Neff reflects on how dark things looked in the weeks immediately following the accident: “I had a full month where I couldn’t train, or even move, I wasn’t allowed to walk up a hill or to do anything that would raise my blood pressure,” she told Pinkbike.

“I had a lot of time to think and to deal with the whole situation, no one really knew if I would be healthy again or if I would be able to race again, or even ride my bike.”

Yet within two months Jolanda was back in the saddle: “Every single day counted. This new situation now gives me more time to heal and just take my time to recover and do a proper solid build-up.”

Another month on, with the announcement of the new calendar for the 2020 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz, Neff’s tone was back to her upbeat best! “Ohh this is absolutely great news!!😍 The UCI just revealed the mountain bike calendar for this year and it makes me soooo happy 🥰”.

The reigning XCO and cross-country Marathon (XCM) UCI World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot had iliac artery endofibrosis surgery at the start of 2020. It looked like the timing would badly affect her chances of being fit to defend the XCO title.

Pauline started convalescence pre-season with physio and training at home, in Fréjus. “I was able to ride outside and to do some first post-op intense riding at the end of February,” she told us in late April. “I was planning to return for the opening of the French Cup, in Marseille, at the end of March but it would have been too early for me to be as ready as I want. A scanner showed a small shrinkage of the artery, linked to the healing process, but the surgeon who operated me wasn't worried about it."

But the extended period of home training has levelled the playing field, with Pauline back to health and finally able to train outdoors again, raring for the XCO UCI World Cup fixtures: “Finding my training trails will give me the BIGGEST pleasure”.

Multiple Women Elite downhill (DHI) UCI World Champion Rachel Atherton started 2020 still recovering from the achilles she ruptured in Les Gets in 2019, and used the enforced layoff to rebuild. By early May the Briton was ominously back on “the big jumps”.

Her compatriot Tahnée Seagrave, who recovered from early 2019 injuries in time to run Myriam Nicole closest in the UCI World Championships in Canada, hit disastrous luck again, just weeks before the 2020 UCI World Cup was due to start: “No words could ever describe how I feel right now... Dislocated ankle, broken Tib & Fib, ligament tears” –. Yet with three months of recovery and physio, she’s riding hard enough to feel “relieved” at taking a minor spill!

In the men’s downhill, the big injury comeback story has been Brook Macdonald. A high-speed off in a DHI UCI World Championships practice run in Mont-Sainte-Anne (Canada) saw the Kiwi fracture two vertebrae. Nicknamed ‘The Bulldog’ – for his characteristically tough history of bouncing back from crashes – it was on the steep, wet, La Tarzan rock feature that he came over the bars and was subsequently airlifted to hospital.

Following surgery to insert rods and screws in his spine, Macdonald returned to New Zealand where he learned to walk again and underwent extensive physio, further operations and many hours on an indoor trainer.

“Even though it was the biggest crash of my life, I still look at this as a small bump in the road,” he said in late October. “It’s going to take time, but I don’t see any reasons why I can’t make it back to where I was.” Brook hitting the trail in a new video is the best sight yet for his fans, and the commenters on this post read like a “who’s-who” of mountain biking.