Andrea Moletta: Coming back one day at a time

March 24, 2007, Milano-Sanremo , " La Classicissima di Primavera ": With just over 25 km to go in...

An interview with Andrea Moletta, September 2, 2007

187 riders lined up on the start of the Vuelta a España yesterday afternoon, among them was a rider no one expected to see - no one, that is, except the man himself. Andrea Moletta made headlines in March for all the wrong reasons when he crashed out of Milano-Sanremo in a horrific accident while descending the Cipressa as part of the leading breakaway. Moletta's crash was so severe that Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer immediately thought the talented Italian's season was over, yet while he was being loaded into the ambulance Moletta leaned over and said to his manager, "Hans, I'll see you at the Vuelta!" Now six months later, Moletta is indeed lining up for the Spanish event, Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer caught up with the tough 28 year old to find out just how he came good on his word.

March 24, 2007, Milano-Sanremo, "La Classicissima di Primavera": With just over 25 km to go in the biggest one day race of the year for any Italian, Moletta slipped into a leading escape group with Liquigas' Franco Pellizotti and Yaroslav Popovych of Discovery Channel, two very capable riders to have alongside you when the peloton is breathing down your neck just 20 seconds back. For an Italian, this is the equlivant to riding away on the Muur van Geradsbergen in the Tour of Flanders for a Belgian, in other words, it's huge.

But for Andrea Moletta, the move quickly turned from being one of his brightest moments in his career to being one of the darkest. While descending the Cipressa, a tight decent on the streets of the Italian coastal town of S.Lorenzo a Mare, Moletta suddenly veered left on a right hand bend for no apparent reason, losing control and slamming at high speed into a lamp post before tumbling into one of the low stone walls common in this part of Italy.

Frequently the shock of such an experience will block out all memory of the event, but not for Moletta. "I still remember every detail of it," he said, yet surprisingly to this day no one, Moletta included, can explain why it happened. "In a situation like that, hundreds of things go through your head. I didn't know how serious the injury was, just that it was serious."

" " -the first thing Moletta said to his DS after his crash in Milan Sanremo.

Despite the shock, pain and uncertainty he experienced, he repeatedly told Holczer and Sport Director Christian Henn that he would return to ride the Vuelta. Even the doctors didn't believe him, finding his broken femur serious enough to keep him out for the whole rest of the season. Moletta still isn't sure himself sure why he remained adamant that he would return for the Vuelta, "maybe I was just trying to put up a brave front," he concluded.

The following Tuesday, Moletta underwent surgery with the doctors inserting a metal plate into his right thigh. After speaking with the doctors, Henn was still not holding onto any hopes that he would return before the 2008 season, "The doctors said before the operation that they cannot give any forecasts concerning his comeback," Henn said at the time.

Obviously, they hadn't factored into the equation the Italian's determination. It seems that professional cyclists have a trait in built into their DNA which enables them to recover quickly from injuries that would otherwise leave a mere mortal bed ridden. Saul Raisin, Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong and now Moletta have all defied what their doctors have told them to recover from their illness or injury in record time. "It's unbelievable, but I only went 15 days without moving it," he said. "After these 15 days I started with physical therapy and water gymnastics." Within two months he was allowed to climb back aboard his Specialized. "On May 15 I sat on my bike again for the first time."

By the beginning of June he was back to serious training, but it wasn't so easy for the determined Italian, "of course I had my doubts at the beginning, but I fought against them and never gave up." Mentally, getting back the confidence needed to ride in a peloton surrounded by 200 other riders was a much easier task, "actually I had no big problems, just sometimes an insecure feeling on descents."

His return to training and the progress that he made in his recovery after his crash led to Gerolsteiner announcing in July that he would return to racing at the Brixia Tour. "My leg is not bad, but not perfect," he told Cyclingnews at that time, The race won't be easy. I will start and then I'll see." And what did he see? "It felt almost like my first race ever. It was great, especially when I saw that everything was working out." He eventually finished the tough Italian race in 62nd overall, 32.43 down, but more importantly, his captain Davide Rebellin took the overall win. "It is an honour for me to work for such riders as Davide Rebellin," Moletta said, who is happy to play the role of a domestique to one of the worlds best.

Not that being a domestique was the sole reason for Gerolsteiner hiring the Italian in the first place. The team has other plans for their rider, namely taking over the role of the very Italian that Moletta helped to win in his first race back from injury, Davide Rebellin. "Andrea is surely one of the strongest helpers in the whole peloton and an important support for Team Gerolsteiner - especially in the Classics races," Henn said. "I trust him to one day possibly win one of the Classics. We are very happy that he is almost completely healed."

During the Tour de l'Ain in August, Moletta also impressed his other Director Sportif, Christian Wegmann. "It is unbelievable, what Andrea can already do again on the bike. In the first days he was often the deciding man in defending Beat Zberg's leader's jersey. And when he gets off the bike, he can't even walk right. He limps very markedly, and sure doesn't look like a healthy athlete. I take my hat off to him!"

Moletta admits that he is still not entirely up to speed, his injured leg "is still a bit weaker than the healthy leg,” and he realises that there is a long way to go in his recovery. "I probably won't reach 100 percent again until 2008," but that hasn't stoped him from racing a full schedule since returning, yet he isn't afraid of overdoing it. "I'm not worried about that at all. I've had plenty of time to rest since Milano-Sanremo!"

Saturday, September 1 marked the start of his second attempt at Spain 's national tour. Last year in his first Vuelta he finished ninth on the eighth stage and seventh on the 11th stage, leading DS Reimund Deitzen to say, "Andrea rode a really great race." However, that was to be last they saw of him in Spain, in the 12th stage, things came apart at the very start of the stage. He and team-mate Sven Montgomery both flatted right after the neutral zone and with the peloton riding like a bunch of juniors, as fast as possible from the gun, the two were left behind waiting for repairs. They would try for 50 km to catch the fast-moving peloton, but it was pointless and both retired from the race that day.

The tall Italian from Tombolo in northeastern Italy turned pro in 2003 when he signed a one year contract for Mercatone Uno. The following year he rode for Barloworld before moving to Gerolsteiner at Rebellin's recommendation. In his first two seasons with the German squad he lined up for his home tour, the Giro d'Italia. This year he was scheduled to ride the Tour de France for the first time in his career, although fate dealt him another hand. He admits that the Tour is still on his "to do" list, "of course, we haven't yet spoken about the season planning for 2008, but the Tour is a great race. I would have liked to have been there this year." He said. What are his plans for this, his second Vuelta? "That will depend on my condition and my leg. How does the saying go: I'll take it one day at a time." If his return to form after his accident at Milan Sanremo is anything to go by, we should expect big things from the ever positive Italian.

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