Ian Crane wasn't able to make it to the Joe Martin Stage Race on Thursday to defend his 2014 overall title, but his Jamis-Hagens Berman team picked up where he left off when Gregory Brenes withstood a Colombian onslaught to win this year's opening time trial and take the race lead.
Following along from his home in the Pacific Northwest, Crane, who continues to recover from a harrowing, life-threatening crash last August at the USA Pro Challenge, experienced conflicting emotions as the results began to pour in over social media.
“It was a tough morning for me to see the results happening,” said Crane, who underwent brain surgery on April 7 to remove a cyst that developed from last year's crash. “This was the first race where I had a good result last year, and to not be there was tough, but to see Gregory win was really uplifting. I'm super happy for that.”
Given the circumstances, Crane said, Brenes' win at the event where Crane earned his first-ever National Racing Calendar win last year was a lot more than just another result for his team.
“I was very, very, very happy to see Gregory get the win today,” Crane said. “He lives in Costa Rica, far away from me, but he checked in very regularly all winter just to see how my recovery was going – just from a friend and a human aspect side of things. That's something I really respected and appreciated.”
Crane's recovery started nearly eight months ago, shortly after he crashed through the rear window of a team car while chasing back into the USA Pro Challenge field following a mechanical.
The 24-year-old broke multiple bones in the crash and suffered a traumatic brain injury. But the most immediate concern that day was the massive blood loss from deep lacerations on his face, neck and to chest – including a nick to his jugular vein. The Denver Post reported that organizers considered stopping the stage when word began to spread erroneously that Crane had died at the scene.
The seriously injured rider was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery and sedated him for several days. Crane spent two weeks in a Colorado hospital recovering from the multiple operations that left him with hundreds of stitches and staples to close his wounds.
Aside from the lacerations and brain injury, Crane broke his scapula and another bone in his skull, tore several tendons in his neck and broke four of his front teeth in half. As he recovered in the hospital, Jamis-Hagens Berman stepped up and offered him another contract for this season.
Since then, Crane has undergone multiple operations and endured months of physical therapy, all the while hoping to get back on the bike and eventually back into competition. He said the recovery is an incredibly challenging process that continues everyday.
“I probably had 250 doctor visits or something like that,” he said. “But, yeah, I'm pretty happy with where I'm at. As far as visual affects of the crash: the scars are healing, I've had one mouth surgery so far, I finally got my teeth and that sort of thing, so that's progressed well. Just getting out on the bike was really huge for me.”
Crane had been riding his indoor trainer throughout the process, but he finally got the OK in March to start riding outside again – with one big hitch. A small cyst had started to grow in the center of Crane's brain, and it needed to come out before he started experiencing adverse neurological symptoms. Crane was allowed to ride his bike outside again, but in three weeks he was going to have brain surgery that would quickly bring that freedom to an end. The good news/bad news situation made for an awkward appointment with his doctor following an MRI.
“When I had the appointment, my understanding was that I was going in to discuss the potential of bike riding, whereas he thought the appointment was about having to tell me that I had to have brain surgery,” Crane said. “So when we went in there he was all somber and I was all excited, so it was kind of a weird combination of things.”
Crane said he was initially upset that he couldn't have the surgery immediately so that he could put it behind him, but the three-week wait turned out to be a blessing.
“I realized a lot during those three weeks of riding,” he said. “I love bikes. I really love the training aspect of racing and the mental aspect of racing, and that was what was fun to me, but in those three weeks I had on the bike I was reminded of just the pure bliss of riding bikes, which is why we all ride bikes in the first place. It's just a really, really fun thing to do.
“I think it was healthy to be reminded of that again. It gave me something to look forward to again. I'll be ready to do that as soon as I can.”
Crane also had the opportunity to attend a Jamis training camp that the team sandwiched in between the San Dimas Stage Race and the Redlands Bicycle Classic. It was just a week before his surgery, and it provided a much-needed positive boost as he was heading into another challenge. Crane rode with a large group for the first time since his crash, and he exceeded his longest ride by 50 or 60 miles. He also put in some serious climbing as the team scouted some of the Tour of California stages.
“It was a bit humbling,” Crane admitted. “I knew I wasn't going to be there smashing guys or anything, but it was different to go there and be the slow one at camp.”
Crane is a person who seems to find the positive in just about anything, however, and he said he came away from the camp with a lot of motivation.
“I was able to keep up, so that was good for me for sure, because although I was going much harder than those guys, I was keeping up on the climbs and keeping up on the whole rides and that sort of thing,” he said. “I've been putting a lot of work in this winter. It's a different form of work that I've been putting in, but I've been doing everything that I could, and although it's different, it's nice to see that I'm not starting from zero. I did what I could.”
Crane is restricted from the bike again, but just a couple weeks out of brain surgery and he is already thinking about when he'll be able to get back out and ride. He has a follow-up appointment with his surgeon in a couple of weeks, and he should find out more at that time.
“The recovery was pretty awful for the first two weeks,” he said. “But in the last five days or so I've been able to move around more, so I'm getting back into wanting to do walks and that sort of thing. I have a lot of restrictions on me know. I can't lift more than five pounds. I can't hold my breath. Anything that puts pressure on the brain, I can't do. So as far as bike riding, that's in the surgeon's hands. I don't want to do anything that will affect my life or my well-being in any way.”
In the long run, Crane knows his bike – and his team – will be there for him when he's ready, but for now he'll follow along and live vicariously through friends and teammates like Brenes and Ben Jacques-Maynes.
Stage 2 at Joe Martin, a 177km road race, takes place today, and you can be sure that Crane will be following all of the action.
“I know the guys who are there are super strong, and they'll do everything they can to support that jersey,” he said. “It will be cool to follow for the next four days, for sure. There are definitely opportunities over the next few days to get time back, but Gregory is super strong. Ben Jacques-Maynes is there, and he'll be calling the shots. That guy has so much experience, I would put any amount of trust I needed to in Ben. So I think it will be a good weekend.”