A training ride crash late last year left David Tanner with a litany of broken bones, ending his season and time with IAM Cycling. As bad as the accident was - Tanner spent three weeks in intensive care - the Australian never thought that it would end his career.
Almost seven months from the crash, Tanner is close to the level that saw him spend seven years at WorldTour level, but he is currently without a team and fearful his career may have been prematurely cut short.
The injuries from Tanner's crash were extensive, which becomes clear as he lists them off. A "collapsed and punctured lung, six broken ribs, a broken shoulder and a shoulder blade shattered into pieces. Then six fractured vertebrae. My head was opened up."
"I did the job properly,” Tanner told Cyclingnews.
Complicating Tanner’s bid for a contract while laid up in hospital was the fact that his IAM Cycling squad and fellow WorldTour team Tinkoff where both closing up shop, ensuring a tough market for any rider out of contract at the end of 2016.
"I was close to getting a ride sorted, and that was right in the middle of all that," he told Cyclingnews when discussing accident's impact on signing a contract. "All my options fell through as you would expect. If you are talking to a guy who is in intensive care and maybe never finds his level again, or there are another 15 guys who can do a similar job and who can start racing in January, you will take the other guys, won’t you?"
Rather than let the injuries get the better of him, however, the 32-year-old Tanner flew back to home to Melbourne, Australia, from his European base of Monaco to start the rehabilitation process with the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS). The 10-week programme, five days a week and “sometimes twice a day,” got Tanner back up to speed.
"I am very grateful those guys because they are the best to work with, probably in the world. Australia has the best support system in the world with that kind of stuff, I believe," he said. "If I didn't have those guys, I wouldn’t have been able to get back to the same level."
With the VIS rehab completed, Tanner jetted back to Monaco, where he has been training on familiar roads since. Having toyed with the idea of racing some mountain bike events, Tanner has poured his time and energy into securing a ride and extending his career.
"What I fear is that if I don't get into the right situation this year, then the cycling career could be over," he said. "It’s one thing to do a few races, but sometimes you need the right races to show yourself to get the contract for 2018 and beyond. A few smaller local, regional races will not help in that respect. I need to find the best scenario. I am looking at all options at the moment, but it’s quite complicated."
For Tanner, the bike has been his raison d'être since the age of the nine and a part of life he wishes to continue. While Tanner had plans for retirement, a focus on coaching and completing the UCI’s rider agent and sports director courses, those ideas have been brought forward and forced him into considering life after racing.
"I am going to keep up with the rehab and training this year. I see what the situation is, and I know what the outcomes can be, and it can either go one or two ways. Everything works out and goes back to normal, and I keep racing at a high level for four of five years," he said.
"The other outcome is that cycling doesn't work out due to the situation and I have to look at another option for the rest of my life. I am slowly getting my head around that which has been pretty difficult. I had planned for what I was going to do after the bike, but I was working toward that. When you are faced with that four of five years early, it is very difficult to accept."
Time off the bike has also provided Tanner with a great appreciation and insight into racing. Whether that be mistakes made in training, recalling having never done an eye test, or having greater gratitude for the profession of professional cycling, he is hungry for a return to racing and giving it his all over the next few years.
"It has made me open my eyes that we don’t know how lucky we are. For most of us, it is our dream job and career, and I feel like a lot of guys don’t realise it and don’t make the most of it," reflected Tanner. "It is a dangerous career, and your career can be taken away from you pretty quickly, and I have realised with my time off and training the things that I could have done in the past to be a better rider and better teammate.
"I believe what happens tends to do so for a reason and you have to make the most of the situations you have been placed in and the cards that you have been dealt. I am trying at the moment to see it as a blessing in disguise, but it is a difficult situation."