Giddy up! Back to Holland: Loren Rowney on her return to racing

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Ella columnist Loren Rowney returns to racing this weekend at EPZ Omloop van Borsele and Dwars door de Westhoek. It has been six weeks since a horrific and widely documented crash involving a spectator in the sprint finish at Drentse 8 left her with a broken collarbone.

As she awaited surgery the morning following her crash, Rowney penned an Ella column about the experience. She checks in again today as she heads to Holland to join her Veloocio-SRAM teammates for the final few Spring Classics.

Six weeks ago today I was lying in Hamburg hospital. I found myself repeatedly thinking: “What the hell just happened?” as I began to come to terms with with an injury far more painful than my broken elbow four years ago. I fractured my collarbone in what has been described as “one of the most spectacular crashes of the season” by the cycling media. A spectator reached his arm across the barriers as I sprinted past him. He hit my handlebars, and the next thing I knew, I was tumbling toward the ground. Crashes happen in cycling. We all know that. My crash? It shouldn’t have happened.

I still haven’t watched the video. I don’t know if I ever will. And I still don’t have a real answer. I never actually got a direct apology from the man who essentially ruined my spring. Maybe “ruined” seems like a dramatic word in this context, but if you knew my history and the setbacks I’ve overcome, “ruined” seems fitting. I felt like I had finally found my footing in the peloton. I was going from strength to strength. Anyone who watches the video can clearly see I was about to snag my first European podium of the year.

The attention surrounding my crash was a bit of a surprise. It was even featured on College Humor. My friends joke that I’ve gotten far more than my 15 minutes of fame out of the incident. For about three weeks post-crash, all anyone wanted to talk about when they saw me was the crash. At first I didn’t really flinch explaining it all over and over again. Eventually, I realised that to move on, I needed to move forward. The memory of the crash and the immediate aftermath is something I would rather forget than re-live.

While I was certainly very lucky to have so many friends willing to hang out with me on the couch in the early days of my recovery, keep me company during those first few ergo sessions and train with me when I received the clearance to venture outside, I also had a lot of solo time at my European base in Girona. It wasn’t always easy watching my friends come in and out of town between races while I was stuck at home. Six weeks might not seem like such a long time to sit out, but it’s begun to feel like an eternity recently. I found myself having to set daily and weekly goals, and only in the past week have I really nailed it mentally.

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Periodically during these last six weeks, I would find myself sitting in my apartment alone thinking: “How is it that I’m back at this point again? Why? Why does this rider and this rider and this rider always seem to have such a clear run? No sickness. No injury. No freakish crashes?” It was hard to stop myself from thinking: “Is it me or is it just plain old bad luck?”

I’m going to take a punt and say that it’s not me. The universe isn’t out to get me. I’m not doing anything wrong. It’s just luck – bad luck. But that’s life really, isn’t it? It’s a series of highs and lows and in-betweens – and if you focus on the things that go wrong, it’s always going to seem like everything is going wrong. Which is why I choose to focus on the things that go right.

So tomorrow I line up at Borsele. It’s a tough, typical, crazy Dutch race. And I cannot wait! The funny thing is that most people in the peloton aren’t super keen on this race. It’s been a long spring of fighting in the wind and over narrow roads, and most people are ready to move on to something new. I might not love this race normally, but today, I’m not even stressed. It wouldn’t matter at all which race I was starting tomorrow, I’m just ready to get back amongst it.

When something unexpected happens and takes away the thing that you love, the thing that defines you, there is absolutely no greater feeling than when you get that thing back. When I’m suffering like a dog tomorrow, I’ll look down at my top tube and see my Amy D. Foundation heart sticker and think: “Damn does it feel good to be back.” – regardless of the outcome.

Okay, okay. Who am I kidding? I would really love to be a part of a team victory tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be a nice little welcome back to racing gift? And let’s hope the spectators are a little friendlier this time round.

Loren Rowney is a professional rider for Velocio-SRAM. With the team since its inception (as Specialized-lululemon), the South-African born Australian lives in Girona, Spain during the European cycling season

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