Blake Caldwell has heeded medical advice and stepped down from the Garmin-Transitions ProTour ranks to join its less-demanding counterpart Team Holowesko Partners in 2010. He is fighting to reverse a form of osteoporosis discovered after he broke his hip in a cycling crash while training in Girona, Spain last April.
"I'm not on the Garmin ProTour team next year," said Caldwell. "I'm happy to join a group of young guys on an exciting team. I want to help the team in any way that I can."
"I've known for a while that I'll have a different role next year; [I've] finalised and settled on that with myself and with the new team," he added. "The reason that came about was because after my crash I followed up with a bone density scan and it showed it had Osteoporosis."
Osteoporosis is defined by the World Health Organisation as a bone mineral density that is 2.5 standard deviations below peak bone mass, compared to an ideal average 25-year-old male. Although the disease is more common among women, it affects nearly two million men in the USA.
Caldwell was based in Girona with his ProTour team at the time, Garmin-Slipstream, when he crashed and broke his hip during a training ride. His doctors became skeptical when Caldwell explained that the nature of the accident did not warrant a broken bone. A follow-up bone density test revealed sub-par bone mineral density and if not treated could result in more easily broken bones.
It is hard to imagine how a seemingly healthy 25-year-old male's bones could diminish to the point of crumbling during low impact. But according to Caldwell, the disease is more predominant amongst male and female cyclists than one would think. Caldwell sought several second opinions and found that a professional cyclist's lifestyle, such as his own, was a health risk for osteoporosis if adequate nutrition and weight bearing activities were not maintained.
"There are a lot of risk factors," Caldwell explained. "There is a lot in the news about how cyclists, even males, lose bone density because it's a non-weight bearing sport, so it doesn't stimulate new bone growth. Other things like a pro cyclist's lifestyle contributes to decreasing bone mass faster because of sitting on the couch and then training six hours a day which puts a lot of strain on the body and can affect bone growth.
"Also, we eat a lot of calories to maintain energy balance but we don't necessarily have an adequate nutritional balance like calcium intake. Our calcium loss is higher because we lose a lot of sweat. It's things like that," he added.
Caldwell's broken hip is almost fully recovered; however, it will take months or perhaps years to reverse some of his bone mineral loss. He has been riding for several months and regularly incorporates running and other weight bearing activities into his training schedule. He made minor changes to his diet and his doctors prescribed Forteo, a medication that stimulates bone growth.
"I had to change my expectations on this and realise that it will take a long time to get to a normal bone density," Caldwell said. "That's why I'm doing a reduced race schedule this year and focusing on getting back to being healthy. I believe that I will back at the ProTour level again in the future."
Caldwell began racing bicycles when he was eight years old and has been a member of Garmin during it's seven-year incarnation. He was one of the original athletes to join Jonathan Vaughters' 5280/Subaru development team in 2003. The team grew into TIAA-Cref in 2004 and by 2007 it had transformed into the Professional Continental team Garmin-Slipstream. Newly named, Garmin-Transitions will enter its second year as an American-based UCI ProTour team in 2010.
"Jonathan has been more than supportive, terrific," said Caldwell. "My injuries have gone back a long time when I had some knee injuries but he stuck by me and gave me time to recover. He's gone through a lot of injuries with me in the past but I feel like each time I've shown that I could come back from those and return to a high level.
"I was just recovering from an injury in the Tour of Missouri in 2008 when I crashed in 2009. It's a lot of up and downs but Jonathan has been supportive the whole time."
Caldwell's career highlights include a second place overall at the Tour of Utah and a second place at the US Pro Championships, both in 2008.