Just as it appeared that 2017 would be a right off for the out of contract David Tanner, a 2 a.m. phone call offered the Australian a lifeline. Former Saxo Bank teammate Nick Nuyens reached out to Tanner's manager and offered the 32-year-old a contract through to the end of 2017 via his Pro Continental squad Veranda's Willems Crelan.
With IAM Cycling folding at the end of last year, Tanner found himself on the lookout for a new team and was close a deal when he was hit by a car in a training ride accident in September. He spent three weeks in intensive care recovering from multiple injuries as a result and facing up to the reality of an early retirement
Refusing to give up on his career, Tanner kept training in the hope of earning a contract while also remaining pragmatic and enrolling in courses to cover his bases.
It was during a visit to Australia in May made to complete a level one coaching course, along with several other personal and professional reasons, that Tanner received the news. He is now back in Europe at altitude, preparing for his first races with the team in late-July with his persistence paying off.
"I had almost given up on racing for this year. I didn't want to stop cycling so I kept training in the hope that someone gave me a chance," a relieved Tanner told Cyclingnews. "I had basically given up. In my last week in Australia, Nick Nuyens called my manager and I just happened to be staying at his house and it was two in the morning or something.
"He came into the room and said, 'Nick Nuyens just called me and wants to know if you can race in July'. I didn't know if I was dreaming or what the story was but it was true and it happened.”
Tanner added the friendship he and Nuyens struck up at the beginning of the decade as teammates was a contributing factor in getting the deal done.
“We were teammates in 2011 and 2012 at Saxo Bank and we always got on really well there. I think he is a smart guy and he's watched the races over the races," he said of the 2011 Tour of Flanders winner and now team manager. "It is good for them, it is good for me and I am just grateful that he has given me the chance and I hope I can repay him and the team with some good riding."
The deal takes Tanner through to the end of the season with his focus squarely on the here and now after his challenging start to 2017.
"Next year is a different year. I don't know what will happen then. I haven't even thought that far ahead to be honest," said Tanner.
Tanner makes his debut with the team at the Grand Prix Cerami on July 19, followed two days later at the Tour de Wallonie. The BinckBank Tour, formally known as the Eneco Tour, is also on Tanner's programme which has the Australian excited and motivated for a return to racing. Especially after training with the likes of Sky's Luke Rowe and several other Tour bound cyclists.
"It is a strange feeling as there are so many times this year when I have had my hopes up and then they came down again. Plus dealing with the injuries and rehab and all that. It is the longest I have ever gone without racing and I am also aware that riding on your own or doing intervals with a little group is one thing but riding in a big bunch is another," reflected Tanner. "I think the first race might be an eye opener and shock to the system but it all comes back pretty quickly. I am confident it will go smoothly and I'll just keep calm and get on with the job.
"I think this time off the bike, this year I have realised the mistakes that I have made my whole career. Being too nervous and over analysing too much stuff was one of my big problems. I need to make sure I remember that and take it into these races."
Grateful to be a alive
The recent high profile tragic deaths of Michele Scarponi, Nicky Hayden and Julia Viellehner during training rides have all drawn further attention to the vulnerability of cycling on Italian roads.
Tanner has recovered from his training ride injuries, "collapsed and punctured lung, six broken ribs, a broken shoulder and a shoulder blade shattered into pieces. … six fractured vertebrae. My head was opened up", and to continue his career as a professional cyclist. Tanner knows how lucky he was first to have walked away alive, and secondly to have been given the lifeline to continue his career. A fact that he will forever be grateful for.
“Believe me, I have suffered. I have suffered a lot from it. Physically and mentality it has been something. I can't really explain," he said of the crash. "It has been very difficult. But then at the same time, when I walked in to do the police statement after I finally got out of the hospital, they said 'you are very lucky to be alive'. Four out of five times you should be dead'.
"I have seen a few of the guys this year who weren't as fortunate as me and when I read and hear about those accidents, it puts things into perspective, and now I am just grateful that I am here and alive. The trauma and pain of the accident is a little bit easier to deal with when you take into consideration that I am able to still ride my bike and get on with life. The other guys haven't been so fortunate."