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The 2015 season was a rollercoaster one for Matt Brammeier, who picked up a new team, clocked up his biggest win and later smashed into a car during the Tour of Utah and ended up in hospital with multiple fractures.
Now recovered, he’s hoping for the highs without the lows in 2016 and has a very clear goal in mind.
“I want to do the Tour de France,” he told CyclingTips, speaking in Belgium prior to heading back to his base in Girona, Spain.
“That is what I am aiming for, to be selected for the Tour and to be part of the team’s leadout train in the race.”
Brammeier has never ridden a Grand Tour before. Making his three week debut in the sport’s top event will require two things. Firstly, he will need to be in top condition and to show that in the buildup to the race. The team is much stronger in 2016 than 2015, and places will have to be earned for the major events.
Secondly, he will have to prove himself of valuable assistance to Mark Cavendish, Team Dimension Data’s big new signing. He’s confident he can do both.
The duo know each other well, with their paths crossing over a decade ago. While Brammeier has competed under an Irish licence for several seasons, he grew up in Liverpool and was originally part of British cycling squads.
He was national junior road race champion in 2003, beating Cavendish and Geraint Thomas to take the gold medal.
He later rode alongside Cavendish when they were both part of the HTC Highroad team in 2011 and Omega Pharma Quick Step in 2012.
That link resumes again in 2016, with the British sprinter moving to Team Dimension Data.
Brammeier has worked for him in the past and is aiming to play a key role for Cavendish in the months to come.
“I think that is where my job will hopefully be this year. I’d like to slot into that leadout and do a good job. Maybe that could be my ticket for the Tour, to go there and do that role.”
Back from the brink of disaster
If that happens, it will be a major turnaround from where he was on August 9th last. One moment Brammeier was racing hard in the Tour of Utah, riding the US event in advance of a likely Grand Tour debut in the Vuelta a España.
The next, he was crumpled on the ground, having suffered multiple injuries in a crash that looked particularly serious.
The accident happened on a high-speed descent, with the 30 year old heading into a tight left hand bend with too much speed and cannoning into the side of a race support vehicle.
He had attempted to brake but was still moving briskly when he collided with the side of the car. The impact threw him into the air and he landed on the back bonnet before thudding to the ground.
He fractured ribs on both sides of his chest and also suffered a puncture to one lung. In addition, he sustained fractures to sacral and pelvic bones, as well as bruising his liver and cracking a tooth.
Those who saw the video replays feared for his career, yet somehow he emerged from the crash in better shape than the images suggested might be the case.
“All the doctors said that normally you don’t fracture the ribs that I broke, ribs one and two, without breaking your neck. My pelvis was also broken, plus the bottom of my back as well. Fortunately they were not displaced. If it had been slightly worse then it would have been a bit of a longer road back.”
Long road back, or no road back; paralysis would have been possible, or worse.
Brammeier had already experienced a major smash earlier in his career when he was run over by a truck while training. He fractured both legs in that accident and spent years trying to correct imbalances between the muscles on either side of his body.
“I don’t think you are ever 100 percent, there is always something that you want to work on,” he said, talking about how his condition is heading into the new year. “There is always something that you want to be better at.
“You are striving to be perfect, so I wouldn’t say I am 100 percent. But I am in a good place, I have done some good work, some good training. Everything is going well. I had some tests with the physio last week and it looks kind of 50-50 both sides [in terms of being balanced], so everything is good to go, I think.”
Brammeier is a rider with a big engine, one who can drag a bunch along for countless kilometres or, alternatively, go up the road in an early break and stay out front all day.
He’s got an affinity for big one day races and hopes to be in strong shape by spring.
Is he worried that the time off after his crash will have put him behind for the Classics?
“Not really,” he answered. “I started training a few weeks before everyone else did, so I had a bit of time to catch up. The only thing I will be lacking is those races at the end of the season, which I missed. I will try to do a bit more racing at the start of the season just to get some extra kilometres in the legs before the Classics.”
Change of programme centres around peaking for Roubaix
Many riders forgo beer and other such vices in order to be in top shape for their chosen events. Brammeier will be turning his back on alcohol in a different way, though; last year he won his weight in beer in the Tour of Flanders, attacking in an early move and then taking a prime for the 74 kilos of Steene Molen.
This time around, he’ll forgo the race, with his 2016 programme deliberately leaving it – and thus the beer-chasing opportunity – out.
“I will start in Mallorca at the end of January and then I will ride Dubai,” he said, talking about his schedule.
“I will then do Ruta del Sol and Paris-Nice. It should be good. It is good to have Paris-Nice…it will be the first time I will have a decent stage race leading up to the Classics. It gives a bit more overload, so fingers crossed it goes well.
“As regards the Classics, I will do all the Belgian events, all the WorldTour races apart from Flanders. I will miss that – I am going to try to have a good go at Roubaix, so we decided I should skip that race. In the past I have always been a little bit stuffed after it so the plan now is to take that weekend off, just do some training and try to stay fresh in the lead-up to Roubaix.
“Afterwards it will be on to the Tour of Turkey and the Tour of California, and then hopefully the Tour. That is what I am aiming for, to be selected for the Tour and to be in the leadout train for Mark.”
If that works out, making his three week debut in the Tour will be a moment to savour. It’ll be doubly rewarding as he had originally been due to ride the Vuelta a España last August, but had to scratch those plans due to his big crash.
“It’ll be a big thing to ride one,” he said. “Of course I was disappointed to miss the Vuelta, but I am 99 percent I could do a Grand Tour this year.
“I think I could have chosen to do the Giro and the Vuelta, but I preferred to gamble a bit and go for the Tour. I want to just put everything on that. To try and go there. If not, I’ll aim to do the Vuelta at the end of the season. But yeah, definitely, I want to do a Grand Tour next year.”
Getting the HTC Highroad lineup back together
In addition to having new signings on board, the team’s chances of success in 2016 should increase by virtue of its WorldTour licence. Team Dimension Data has stepped up to the top level of the sporting, having been invited to fill the 18th place by the UCI and also proving its worth by stage wins in the Tour and Vuelta a España in 2015.
The licence means the team will be able to plan with confidence, knowing in advance exactly which of the big races it will be able to ride. That in turn should help riders to plan their season and to better peak for key events.
Brammeier wants to build on a year which saw him won a stage of the Ster ZLM Toer. Reuniting with Cavendish will give him additional motivation.
“I have known him for ages. It should be good,” he said. “It will be nice to spend some time together, not just in racing. But not just with Cav – to spend time with some of the other guys from HTC as well, Bernie [Bernhard Eisel] and some of the other guys.
“We had a good laugh at the training camp. They are a good group of guys. I am looking forward to riding with everyone, really. It could be a great year.”