Were there an international ranking for unlucky riders, New Zealander Tim Gudsell would be close to the top of the list. However, the Française des Jeux rider now hopes for better days after he received a last-minute call for the Vuelta a España.
Aware of the great physical potential possessed by Gudsell, Française des Jeux re-signed him after his first two professional seasons with the team. He was ready to strike as he started his 2009 campaign in his beloved Southern Hemisphere. However, a crash on stage three of the Tour Down Under proved to be the first devastating disruption of the year.
A smashed collarbone and fractured elbow were reported from his hospital in Adelaide. "I was out for two months," recalled the Kiwi, who had been in the best form of his life when he crashed. "Then when I started training again an old sciatic injury from last year returned, though no one knew what the real cause was. In the end I believe it was all related back to my crash in the 2007 Giro d’Italia, when I sliced open my iliotibial band (ITB) and quad muscle."
Come Spring, Gudsell was back in France, unable to carry out the job for which he had migrated overseas. "It has been the hardest season of my career so far," he told Cyclingnews. "When you have a broken bone you know what you’re dealing with, but with this injury that would make my left leg fall asleep after 30 minutes of riding. I didn’t know what was wrong. Then whenever we tried something new and it didn’t work I just felt I was always getting kicked back to square one. So obviously the moral was quite low for some time, and I often feared the worst."
The medical staff of Française des Jeux continued to support him throughout his period on the sidelines. This season had offered him a big chance to make his debut at the Tour de France. "But I didn't feel like a real bike rider again until the week before the Tour of Poland in early August, I completed a six hour ride with the last two hours behind the derny and I thought: 'finally we have some progress'."
However, he had no idea of what he’d do for the last part of the season. Française des Jeux hadn’t considered him for the Vuelta a España when they put together a 10-man line-up including Sandy Casar, Sébastien Chavanel, Mikaël Chérel, Rémy Di Gregorio, Arnaud Gérard, Matthieu Ladagnous, Guillaume Levarlet, Yoann Offredo, Anthony Roux and Wesley Sulzberger. However, with Levarlet weakened by a virus and Offredo ruled out after breaking his collarbone during stage two of the Eneco Tour, the door was re-opened for Gudsell.
"I got the nod last Sunday night during the Eneco Tour," he said. "In the morning [Française des Jeux directeur sportif] Martial Gayant came to me to see if I was interested. At first I was a little hesitant, but during the stage that day I thought 'why not, I have nothing to lose'. My Vuelta ambitions are pretty simple: I want to survive as long as possible.
"I have to be realistic after the season I’ve had, but I am prepared to suffer and if I made it to Madrid I would be very happy. Hopefully it will help the form for the end of season races, but more than anything it’s a preparation for 2010. I want to start next season strong, and this is where I can start to lay the foundations."
Gudsell was joined in Holland by team manager Marc Madiot, who said: "I expect Tim to reassure himself and us about his physical abilities after all the crashes he’s had. For him to produce a result isn’t essential."
Madiot's words were ones the 25-year old Kiwi was relieved to hear. "I have no pressure from the team for the race which is really nice, though I am up for contract so that’s always a background pressure for any pro rider," he added. "To be honest if my future keeps me on my bike and out of harms way I’ll be happy. I have been working on my sprint and lead out, so I think that will be my path as rider in the future."