By Gerard Knapp in Palo Alto, California
"It was either a very clean break or a very good surgeon," said Rabobank's Mathew Hayman as he approached the opening prologue of the Tour of California in Palo Alto on Sunday. The Australian rider was able to demonstrate easy upper-body mobility and was even wearing a backpack over a collarbone that had been badly broken in a dramatic and ugly fall in stage four of the Tour Down Under in Australia less than one month earlier.
The fall on January 25 resulted in officials taking the unprecedented step of throwing Italian Elia Rigotto (Team Milram) off the Tour Down Under after the altercation that led to Hayman's spectacular fall. Chief Commissar Michael Robb described it "as vicious a head-butt as I've seen in a long time." Robb, who has been an international commissar since 1991, said it was a "very severe head-butt, a very serious incident" that Rigotto put into Hayman as he was speeding towards the line with his team-mate, sprinter Graeme Brown, in tow in the finale of the stage into Strathalbyn.
After the accident, Hayman was rushed into surgery and a plate inserted into his shattered collarbone. While he still has the metal support in place, he said there was little discomfort and he was able to ride in any position, including hunched over his time-trial set-up. So what had looked like a season-ruining fall has not had too great an impact, and the Australian believes his preparation for the Spring Classics in Europe is back on track.
At first, Hayman thought it was yet another accident that would hamper his favourite part of the season. He suffered a broken elbow in April's Gent Wevelgem last season and also crashed in the lead up to the 2004 Paris-Roubaix, damaging his hip and upper leg.
But Hayman has been seen on the velodrome over the Australian summer prior to the Tour Down Under, and on Sunday he completed the 3.4-kilometre prologue in 4'11", in 59th place, some 20 seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara. It was his first serious run since that crash-marred stage less than one month earlier.
Happily back on the bike, his focus is back to northern Europe in the next few months, where he's certain to play a key role in Rabobank's spring campaign.