The head injuries sustained by Tom Boonen on the second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour could potentially derail his plans to chase Classic wins next spring, with doctors saying that he might be off the bike for an extended period of time.
Boonen missed this year’s Classics after a fall in Paris-Nice, and was determined to get back to his favourite stomping ground in 2016.
However, he fell heavily on Friday’s stage and suffered a fractured skull. While he hopes to be back sooner rather than later, he told Sporza that medical experts are speaking much more cautiously at this point in time.
“It’s hard to say [when he could return]. The doctors speak of six months doing nothing, for safety,” he said. “But I thing more about a month. That’s about the time that a fracture is needed to recover. They are especially afraid of here the trauma. But when I’m back in Belgium, I’ll get it examined fully once more.”
While many of those who competed in the race left on Monday, Boonen has been forced to change those plans. Again, this is down to doctor’s caution plus the nature of the injury.
“Flying involves the risk of a blood clot,” he said, speaking about his situation. He has a fractured left temporal bone, the area of the skull near the ear, and there is still some blood in that area. This is under his skull and has temporarily caused a slight deafness on that side.
“That blood will go away, but it should be completely gone,” he said. “The doctors advised me to stay one to two weeks. Purely for the risk when flying. If a blood clot occurs, you are in trouble. So I’m going to listen and not take risks.”
His birthday is on Thursday. He’d much rather be back home for that, but is unable to do so. “That sucks, but I am realistic enough to realise that my birthday is a day like any other. On that day a CT scan is planned.”
He’s thinking of bringing his family out to him in order to make his time in Abu Dhabi more bearable. “It could well be that Lore come here with the kids,” he said. “We’re doing a holiday attached to it.”
Speaking about the accident, Boonen said that he crash happened when Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka) fell after debris became lodged in his wheel. He tried to avoid him but collided with Bos, hitting the ground head first.
Said at the time to have been briefly unconscious, he said that he remembered nothing of the immediate aftermath, and is missing perhaps half an hour from his memories.
However while that is frightening, he said that he has been encouraged by the time since.
“I got my memory back pretty soon. I can remember everything after I returned to consciousness, my motor skills are good, I can talk normally and I see everything.
“All that is reassuring. If there is no pressure on the brain in the first five hours, the greatest danger has passed.”
Boonen had a frustrating 2015 season, suffering a bad crash in Paris-Nice and being sidelined with a disclocated shoulder. That put paid to his Classics goals, and so he refocused on the world championships. He built up for that by riding the Eneco Tour, where he took a stage, and was also a solid fourth in the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg, was third in the Brussels Cycling Classic and second in the GP de Fourmies.
Boonen played his card early in the worlds and had to be satisfied with 35th place after his group was recaptured. He made up for that somewhat with first in the Munsterland Giro earlier this month and then second on stage one of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
He started the second stage with a chance of taking over the race lead, but lost out due to his fall.
It means that he didn’t end his season as he wished but, providing his time estimation is more accurate than that of the doctors, it could give him enough time to reach solid form before the Classics.
The planned scans back home will likely play a big part in determining just when he can start training again.