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The Giro wasn’t supposed to go this way. After a horrific crash left her off the bike for months, Molly Weaver was keen to make her return to the peloton. She’d recovered, trained, and was now ready to find her last bits of fitness during the 10-day stage race in Italy.
But just a few days in, it was over for Weaver. Finito after a puncture left her stranded on the side of the road in stage three.
Weaver had crammed a full off-season’s worth of training into just a couple of months in order to line up alongside her Sunweb teammates at the Giro Rosa, only to watch it end prematurely due to a bloody flat tyre…Luck sure is a bitch sometimes.
“You know what they say; when it rains, it pours,” said the 23-year-old upon arriving back in her Girona home. “And this season for me has definitely been a bit of a thunderstorm.”
Lucky to be alive
It all started back in February. With a little over a week till the start of the season, Weaver was in peak form, hitting some of the best training numbers she’s ever seen.
The 23-year-old was enjoying one last ride in Girona before heading off to her team training camp when it happened.
She was whizzing down a familiar descent when a car, riding in the wrong lane around a bend, hit her head-on.
“I actually don’t have any memory of it. In fact, I have no memory of the whole day,” Weaver told Ella CyclingTips. “But there’s an outlining of where my body lay. It wasn’t until I rode past it that I even knew where it happened. It now marks the spot where my form died.”
She can joke about it now, but at the time, she was lucky to have survived it.
Waking up in the hospital, the list of injuries was extensive: five broken vertebrae, four broken ribs, a broken sternum and collarbone as well as a serious concussion.
“I broke a lot!” Weaver said. “But if I hadn’t been that fit, I probably would have died.”
A long road to recovery
Weaver was released from the hospital a week later, leaving its clinical halls nearly immobilised in a back and neck brace that she’d wear for the next two months.
Cruelly, Weaver was the released on the day before Het Nieuwslad, the season opener won by teammate Lucinda Brand. And Brand’s win was just the start of a highly successful spring campaign that saw the black-and-white squad emerge as one of the most successful and exciting teams in the Women’s WorldTour.
Weaver, meanwhile, was in a race of her own, trying to recover before the season runs out.
“It was the longest I have ever been off my bike since I became a cyclist,” shared Weaver. “Topped off with all these massive injuries, I had really lost all my fitness. I was starting off at zero while everyone else was racing and getting fitter and fitter.”
The one good thing about being immobilised is that recovering from her concussion became a non-issue.
“I was pretty heavily concussed, and I have very fuzzy, very vague memories from my time in hospital. But since I couldn’t do anything, I actually had two months to recover from my concussion before I even stepped on the bike. So from the moment I stepped on the bike, I had no consequences from the concussion,” she said.
Once the back brace came off, the road to recovery was a bit daunting.
“It started off with just 20 minutes on the road, then 30, then an hour, etc. But to get fit again, I also had this really decompressed timeline. You’re racing against the clock because the season doesn’t go on forever,” said Weaver.
The challenge, therefore, lay in the balance. She had to cram an entire off-season worth of training into a matter of months while heeding the risk of overtraining.
“The first few weeks were quite easy because you’re so injured [that] you can’t do much more. But after that, I was almost pushing myself too much. But then I would be so exhausted and in so much pain that I couldn’t ride for the next two days. So I needed to calm down and do a little bit more each day,” she said.
“I remember the first day I did my usual recovery loop and it wasn’t the absolute hardest day of my life –that was a big day to celebrate.”
Initially, the OVO Energy Women’s Tour had been Weaver’s target, but it came too soon. And so her target shifted to the Giro Rosa.
A not-so-rose-coloured Giro
“The Giro is not going to set me back. It’s going to bring me forward at this point. I’m not at the level I want to be but maybe the Giro will get me there,” Weaver had told Ella CyclingTips the day before the start of women’s cycling only grand tour.
Weaver had been in high spirits, excited to be back yet also nervous.
“It feels a bit strange to be here. With so long out, a part of you feels like you’re never coming back even though you know you will eventually. You feel a bit like you’re not part of it anymore so it feels really good to be back,” she had said.
The legs felt good.
“Fresh is the word,” Weaver joked. “I have to be honest with myself and the team. Had I not had the crash, I would have been here on a higher level. But given the crash, I have actually surpassed what they thought I would be able to achieve. I am hoping that that freshness works in my favour.”
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The first two days went well. Collectively, Team Sunweb rode themselves into an impressive second place in the opening team time trial, starting off the 10-day event on a high note with Brand in the points jersey.
Stage two saw Floortje Mackaij earn the young riders jersey.
“I was able to do my part for the team and felt amazing to be back in the peloton,” said Weaverm reflecting on her short-lived Giro from the comfort of her home. “I knew I could get through the Giro with the form I had. It wouldn’t have been much fun at times, and there would be more time spent suffering than not, but I was hoping this would give me the hard training and race speed I needed in my legs to help make the next step in my recovery.”
But then came day three, a 100-kilometre day with a Category 2 climb and a flat finish that would likely end in a bunch sprint.
“Day three wasn’t my finest on the bike,” said Weaver. “I felt pretty empty from the start and could feel my powers of recovery aren’t what they perhaps needed to be. I would make time cut though and live to fight another day.”
But luck had other plans.
“I wasn’t in the last group on the road and had a good buffer. Then a puncture. At first it was slow…did I have a puncture? Or just bad legs? After another few kilometres, it was completely flat. I stopped on the side of the road thinking there would be neutral service in the Giro. Turns out I was wrong. Nothing but a police motorbike for company. He called on the radio. Nothing. Called on his phone. Nothing. Another five minutes went passed and I saw a group coming. I’d continued to roll down the road, so stopped again. Waved down the cars. No wheels. No bikes. No Spares. Only ‘get in or we leave you here’. I won’t repeat what followed as it wasn’t entirely polite, but that was the end of the race for me.”
The season isn’t over yet
The premature ending of her Giro, after the season she’s had –or rather, not had – left her feeling angry, disappointed and sad but also motivated.
She’s got a few a few weeks to prepare for her next event, La Course.
“I’m on the edge of being back. I’m missing that real top-end and the racing in the legs. I just need to push over that last little edge of fitness. La Course will be the best form I can get in,” Weaver said optimistically.
So look for Weaver in the transformed two-day La Course. In the meantime, you can join Weaver in cheering on her Sunweb teammates as they finish out the Giro Rosa. Click here for all our 2017 Giro Rosa coverage including reports, photo galleries, video highlights and more.