Monday, May 4, 2009

From Gila to Giro: Injured or not, riding with the world's best cyclists provides constant motivation

by Chris Horner

No matter the sport, athletes suffer injuries throughout their careers, but few things are more satisfying than recovering to perform well and help the team succeed.

This season, I've re-learned that lesson and channeled the motivation required to achieve it time and time again as a result of crashes and injuries in my sport, cycling, in which I ride with Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and others on the world's strongest team, Astana.

Since January, I have had to re-start my training three times. First, after healing from a knee injury sustained in a crash at the Tour of California in February. Then, four days back into racing in April, I crashed in the Tour of Basque Country in Spain, fracturing a shoulder and a few ribs. That meant more time off while my body recuperated. That led to my latest re-start, capped last week by riding at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, to prepare for the upcoming Giro d'Italia. The Giro, which begins Saturday in Lido, Italy, is the second most famous road race in the world.

Staying motivated while injured is essential, especially on a team like Astana. This year, my three major goals were to ride in the Tour of California, the Giro d'Italia, and, of course, the Tour de France. Making the team for the first two isn't as difficult, but making the team for the Tour de France is a major feat, especially on a squad of champions all fighting for nine precious spots to compete in our sport's showcase event.

At the Tour of California, Leipheimer was seeking his third consecutive victory in that event, which seriously motivated me to arrive as fit as possible to help him achieve that goal. But after injuring my knee, it became a daily battle to stay in the race and not give in to the pain. That I fought through to the finish and helped Leipheimer to victory shows the heavy healing dose of inspiration the leader's yellow jersey can provide his teammates.

After that event, I felt confident that taking two weeks off the bike to heal my knee would still leave plenty of time to regain my fitness and completely prepare for the Giro. That goal was at serious risk, however, after the crash at the Tour of the Basque Country, in which I slid under a guardrail and clung to a post to keep from sliding down the side of a Spanish cliff. But with only four weeks before the start of the Giro, there was no time left to take off of the bike to recover. It was so crucial not to lose any time, in fact, that the only day I spent off my bike was the day I flew back to Oregon from Spain. The next day, I was immediately back in the saddle and doing as much as I could on the home trainer, which allowed me to keep my legs moving without putting too much pressure on my fragile shoulder. After a week of that, it was back on the road, logging big miles very carefully around San Diego.

So when I got a call to do Tour of the Gila with Leipheimer and Armstrong, who himself was recovering from injury, as a final tune-up before leaving for Italy, I felt fairly nervous about racing again. Another crash would cause serious damage since my bones were not yet healed, but the team needed me so I was off to New Mexico to put my body to the test in the event that ran Thursday through Sunday. The number one objective was to not crash, and a close second was to help our three-man team - racing against full squads -- as much as I could to get another overall victory. With the lead going into the final day, we decided to try to put on a show. We attacked as a team on the second to last climb, shattering the field. We hit the top of the climb with Armstrong, Leipheimer, me and three other guys. We finished second and third in the stage, kept Leipheimer in the overall lead and moved Armstrong up to second. So it was a successful day all the way around and a great week of training before we leave for Italy.

Now, with all of the hard work done on my third re-start of the season, my legs are in fabulous shape to start the Giro d'Italia. It has been easier to find the motivation to fight back from injuries this year because of the amazing riders on the Astana team. Riding alongside the likes of Armstrong, Leipheimer and Alberto Contador has pushed me to be in the best condition possible whenever I race to be able to help my team achieve its goals.

And while being a full-time athlete wouldn't be possible without the benefits of riding professionally, any athlete will tell you the real motivation comes from the adventures we have in our travels that provide us with amazing stories to tell.

Stay tuned for more of mine in the coming weeks as my teammates and I race across Italy.

No comments: