Sarah Gigante on her recovery from three broken bones

"I’ve had to learn to be patient with myself and to, yes, trust and enjoy the process like I was always told to."

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Hey everyone! A lot has happened since my Tour of Flanders blog, so we figured it was time for a little update on my new life in Europe.

You might recall from the blog that I was really disappointed about Flanders, but that feeling didn’t last too long before it was replaced by excitement for the coming Ardennes. With Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège being so hilly, that week of Ardennes racing was meant to be even better than the epic cobbled classics that preceded them … but unfortunately, that week ended up with me wishing for a repeat of Flanders 10 times over instead!

Someone crashed in front of me at Flèche, leading to my spectacular flip over the handlebars and a broken fibula, collarbone, and elbow. Ouch! The only positive I saw at the time was that I had something silly to boast about … it’s actually a bit of a problem in cycling and probably shouldn’t be encouraged, but I will admit to being slightly proud of my stupidity at getting back on the bike and successfully chasing back to the peloton with my broken arm and leg.

I did pull out a few kilometres after reaching the bunch though, once I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was a complete safety hazard to myself and my competitors, and that no, I was not about to pull out a great result or be able to help my teammates when I could hardly steer, let alone get out of the saddle.

The week straight after my crash was pretty rough mentally as well as physically. I missed out on the two spring races I was most excited for, waved goodbye to my final chances of performing in the Olympic selection window, lost my independence because I couldn’t walk without crutches but also couldn’t use crutches, and my laptop (with all my not-backed-up uni work!) completely broke while I was at the hospital, as did my heart when I realised I’d have to take way longer off the bike than what we originally thought.

My home and family in Australia suddenly felt really far away, especially with all of the COVID-19 restrictions and hotel quarantine involved. Going home to come back later wasn’t an option because of this, so after a bit of feeling sorry for myself, I decided I’d have to take it on the chin and make what I could of my new situation. It might not have been the situation I wanted to be in, but it was the one I was in!

After I made it through that very early period though, thanks to some fantastic support, everything started to improve quite quickly. I arrived in beautiful Girona, and although I was still rather immobile and pretty much glued to the couch all day, it was lovely to see sunshine and mountains out the window, rather than the flat grey landscapes I’d grown used to (sorry Belgium, but it’s true!)

After another week or so, I then made it onto Zwift. I was so unbelievably happy on the first day of pedalling at 90 watts for 30 minutes, even if the time spent trying to wrangle on my kit was longer than the ride itself!

I don’t know if it was my practice from Melbourne’s lockdown last year or my appreciation at being able to ride at all, after having that forced couch time post-crash (something I’ve never had to do before!), but I hadn’t even begun to tire of the one to two ergos per day when I had a phone call that eliminated any possible future chance of that happening.

It was the call I’d been dreaming of, but one I hadn’t thought would be possible, especially considering my crash. I had the amazing news that I’d be going to the Olympics, something I’d always dreamed of doing since I was a little kid racing at the Brunswick Junior Clinic! I couldn’t believe it, and even now, just one month from departure, it still feels like a dream.

If you told me five, three, two or even one year ago that I’d be going to the Tokyo Olympics, I would have looked at you like you were completely crazy. It did take a pandemic and super rare postponement of the Games for me to get picked, but I’ll take it for sure. Hey, if you told me six months ago I’d be going to Tokyo, I still wouldn’t have dared to believe you!

The final week of Zwifting flew by, with ‘OLYMPICS!!!!!’ being the newest entry in my countdown app and the biggest motivator in my mind. Surprisingly, it was actually my first ride on the road that was the most mentally challenging day yet.

People are always telling me to just enjoy the journey and trust the process, and I really want to do those things, but I also seem to have a rather unrealistic and unhelpful desire to be at my very best all the time! The crash left me with some leg imbalances that only really surfaced once I started outside, and my efforts that day were some of the worst efforts I’d ever done in my life and really drilled home that my roadside gymnastics had not done a lot to make me faster.

Unfortunately fitness doesn’t just come back in a flash though, so I’ve had to learn to be patient with myself and to, yes, trust and enjoy the process like I was always told to! I am now on the way up again, but I’ve since had to deal with a lot of sessions like that first awful one outside.

My power might be improving slowly, which is surely helping, but my mindset has changed a lot too, and that’s definitely made an even bigger impact. I am still not perfect when it comes to this and do love analysing my wattage a bit too much, but I’m also noticing that my satisfaction after each session is relying more and more on how well I tried to execute it, and less and less on the actual outcome power-wise.

I’m not getting power PBs just yet (although I am getting quite a lot of heart rate PBs in this heatwave!), but I’m sure giving it everything I have to get back to where I was and hopefully be even better, and also making sure to enjoy the new and beautiful Spanish roads in the meantime!

This article first appeared in a weekly newsletter that’s sent out exclusively to VeloClub members.

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