As many of you know I left my position at CSG to race full time this season, so I’ve been more motivated than ever to keep progressing. I spent the winter if Florida and had a ton of great training down there without any major setbacks. Training camp was solid and I knew right from the start that the Kenda/5-Hour Energy team was going to be the team to beat this year. It became even more obvious during the TTT drills and uphill battles than ensued that week!
I made may way to the San Dimas stage race in March, followed by the Redlands Classic. Phil winning the uphill prologue at San Dimas seemed to make the race pretty straight forward, but things became a little blurry when we woke up the next day to pouring 45 degree rain. Fortunately the road race that day is a tough one and the field shrunk down to about 50 riders pretty quickly. I think everyone was relieved at that point but as soon as the madness subsided for a moment, everything went wrong. We came into a sweeping right hand corner when I heard the squealing and metal-on-metal sounds of a crash about 10 places ahead of me. Everyone slammed on the breaks, meaning everyone fell instantly on the slippery roads. I attempted to ride over the pile in front of me but only succeeded in hitting the barricades and flipping over them. My initial body check was pretty straight forward: left shoulder is dislocated, right calf is badly bruised. My shoulder, fortunately, popped back in after about a minute. Ok, it was probably 30 seconds but it sure felt like a minute. I thought for a moment about continuing on in the race but when my calf made it unreasonable to even walk towards my bike I figured my day was done.
The team ended up keeping yellow that weekend with Andy Jacques-Maynes as well as taking the KOM jersey with Phil. Not bad at all, but I was incredibly bummed out to have to sit and watch from the sidelines. Determined to make it right at Redlands, I went out for a hard ride just two days after the crash, and actually felt decent. I noticed some fleeting headaches the next morning but it was nothing to write home about. I wrote it off as dehydration. On Wednesday, the day before starting Redlands, the headaches were bad and becoming very persistent. I figured I should tell someone.
Our team doctor, Dr. Jason Brayley, works as a sports medicine physician at his practice in California and he was at Redlands to help us out for the week. After inspecting my helmet I let him know that it was certainly smashed in but didn’t seemed to be cracked. That could be either a good thing or a bad thing. After a few discussions and tests he and Frankie decided that it would be best if I sat out of Redlands to avoid further injury. Definitely not news I wanted to hear but my common sense was telling me that they were probably right. Plus, it allowed Jim Stemper to fill in for me so I didn’t have to worry, that guy’s an animal.
Phil and the team pulled off a huge victory that week and took home the yellow jersey. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to be out there with those guys, it was just a headache! Cyclists are drilled to be able to withstand a huge amount of pain, from road rash to broken bones, it’s all part of the sport. You crash, you get up, and you keep racing unless completely unable to pedal. Well, I was able to pedal, I was fine, but Dr. Brayley was persistent in having me not touch my bike.
So I traveled home thinking that I would spend 4 or 5 days off the bike, a week at most, and would get right back to it in time for Battenkill. Day after day went by with no improvement, just constant headaches. Concussions are a tricky thing and can last from a few days to a few months. There’s no cure but to rest, physically and mentally. That meant no TV, no computer, no reading, nothing at all. Just lying there trying to get better.
After 10 days off the bike it became clear that Battenkill wasn’t going to happen. Even if I was better the very next day there was no way I would be in shape to race. I did try to ride that day, however, but it didn’t go so well. The headaches got worse and I was back off the bike.
At that point Dr. Brayley and I decided that I should get an MRI, just to rule out any serious issues. He was somehow able to work his magic and get me in within a day, and the MRI checked out. We then reached out to a neurologist in Florida, Dr. Daniel Stein, who was kind enough to do a Skype consultation with me. This ended up being the turning point in this whole mess. After explaining my symptoms he suggested that the headaches may be from a soft tissue injury, such as nerve damage similar to occipital neuralgia. While I did have a concussion originally, it seemed the present symptoms were worsened by events that caused trauma to the neck, like bumpy road riding. Riding hard didn’t make the headaches worse, but the potholes sure did.
With that information in hand I began physical therapy straight away. Dr. Brayley immediately called a neurologist in the area and got me in for a possible nerve block shot in case the PT was ineffective. I started with massage, then some acupuncture (not sure if it worked but I now hate needles even more than ever), stretching, and ultrasound. Within two days the headaches were disappearing and the first thing I did was test myself on a ride. After a few hours there was definitely some neck pain, but with the knowledge that I wasn’t actually damaging my brain, I couldn’t care less.
I ended up missing two weeks of training and a major goal for the season in Battenkill. All the while I didn’t know if I would be better the next day or if my season was over. It was, by far, the most frustrating injury I’ve ever dealt with. The incredible support by everyone around me is the only thing that got me through. Daily phone calls from team management, Dr. Brayley, and teammates were always full of reassurance and optimism. And the daily neck massages from my wife were ok too, I guess.
I was able to get in close to three solid weeks of training before starting the Joe Martin Stage Race and Tour of the Gila. I had a few good rides before heading out to the races but I knew it would be a rude awakening. I’m currently at my host house, almost half way through Gila, and it certainly hasn’t been terrible. It’s very frustrating to be racing below the level that I’m used to but somehow when a teammate needs you to be there for them you forget about being out of shape. I’ve had to turn myself inside out more than a few times this week but it has always resulted in a podium spot for the team, so that’s helped quite a bit!
The plan is to take a short rest after Gila and come into USPRO back on form. There’s plenty of racing left this year and my season definitely isn’t over yet.