Matthew Lloyd has been down, out and missing from the forefront of world cycling, but he is not about to hang it up. Lloyd has spent the last three months undergoing an intensive regime of rehab and chiropractic care back home in Melbourne, Australia, as he goes about realigning his body and his mind. Despite being without a contract for next season the current Lampre rider told Cyclingnews that he remains confident of an "explosive" two years to come.
Lloyd made the remarkable leap from club debutant to ProTour rider in just three years, with an array of results including a third place overall at the Baby Giro sealing him a ride at Predictor-Lotto for 2007. In 2009 he broke part of his spine at the Amstel Gold Race but recovered strongly by 2010 when he won a stage and the mountains jersey at the Giro. Later that year, however, he was hit by a car which sparked shoulder and ongoing spinal injuries that still plague him to this day.
For those who have observed Lloyd as fans over his seven years as a WorldTour cyclist, he has won a dedicated following thanks to his left of centre perspective on things. When pressed on whether he was going to retire, he played true to his reputation:
"It's funny you know because not many people ask the question to me ‘are you going to retire?'" he told Cyclingnews. "All I hear is people calling me up, wanting me to do interviews asking me the question that someone else is too afraid to ask. So that's good that you're asking, because I actually enjoy it. I think it ties in well with what I've told you beforehand, I'm looking for the right environment and I don't have any questions that the next two years will be very explosive."
Lloyd's optimism for the future comes from the recent work that he has done with Melbourne based chiropractor Warren Sipser that he says has given him "a range of movement in my body and particularly in my spine which I haven't had for three years."
With the hindsight afforded by his rebuilt body, Lloyd can now see how the spinal problems of the past have held him back.
"The spine does correspond with pretty much every part of the body whether it be organs, limbs or the brain," said the 2008 Australian Road Champion. "In that scenario I'd always find that if you are in pain it doesn't allow you to be free on the bike and you're using a lot of energy to try and fight the pain and put pressure in areas where it's normally not necessary.
"So you tend to be using a lot of your engine and fuel to try and avoid being in pain and at the end of the day that's energy that you could have used to be trying to win the bike race. I think eliminating that and putting yourself in a situation of happiness whether it be training or racing or just general living is hugely beneficial."
The breakthrough Giro
Lloyd's performance at the 2010 Giro confirmed his climbing talent, and came as a true surprise after the Amstel accident the year before. Lloyd believes that his secret that year was actually carrying extra weight to guard from the cold and give him the kick when he required it.
"To be honest I came into that Giro a lot heavier than I've been before. Having experienced the Giro before, it can be very hot one day and then potentially freezing in the mountains the next so I wanted to rely off the power that I knew that I had. I think the main thing was being comfortable in the flatter stages and having a bit more punch and a bit more power when it did actually come to the crunch situation."
After his Giro performance Lloyd's career took a turn for the worse when he was hit by a car in training in December 2010.
Soon to follow was Lloyd's sudden departure from Lotto in the first half of 2011. Lloyd had made a return to racing at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco but failed to finish the race, and then did not start the Volta a Catalunya despite the insistence of his Lotto team. On their parting, Lotto cited behavioural reasons and specifically denied performance enhancing drugs were an issue. When given the opportunity to give his version of events Lloyd was understandably coy, but gave a strong indication that he was simply being asked to do what his body could not.
"With Lotto I think when you are in a race program that is quite loaded, especially after success the year before, often enough you can tend to slip into an environment where you treat yourself like a robot. But only because you're being told by teams or directors that you have to do these specific races," explained Lloyd. "And then it gets to that point where you're not really considering your body and the way that it works, in the way that it should.
"You're more concerned about the performance in races and often enough that means that the damage is magnified a certain percentage that you can't get back … unfortunately with the sport that we're involved with the season is quite loaded particularly from a climbers perspective and the races that you have to do, because it's part of your job, so I do understand Lotto's perspective. I don't have any sort of beef with my teams in the past because they've understood my situation."
Consistent performances at the Australian Nationals in 2012 and 2013, second and 19th respectively, showed that Lloyd's aerobic engine remained firing, but his lack of consistency over races longer than one day also stood out. After he pulled out midway through the 2012 Tour de France, Lloyd went on to finish just two of the following eight races until his season drew to an end. Lloyd was on a knife-edge.
The next step?
2013 has been similarly frustrating for Lloyd having raced the Australian Nationals, the Tour Down Under and then failing to finish the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. But the time out from racing since March has meant taking the time necessary to assess and finally fix his spinal issues.
"It's seldom that people take longer breaks off to really knuckle down and find their problem areas," he said. "But having established that, I'm looking forward to getting out there and being happy and comfortable with the whole thing. So it has been a really good experience to just get it all done."
With a recent bevy of MRIs and x-rays revealing that Lloyd's body has actually recovered quite well, he has subsequently been able to avoid surgery. With a new body and a new fiancée, Lloyd is chasing a new life. But some pillars of old will remain, of which professional cycling will hopefully be one. His options may appear scarce at current, but Lloyd is playing the long game.
"I think the most important thing is to look at the options when they come about," he explained. "Most people will be eager to snap up a position on a bigger team just because it is a bigger team, whereas I'm not looking for that at all. I'm more concerned as to whether the situation would be beneficial not only for me but for them in the long run.
"I've still got my place in Varese [Italy] and the people there are great, and I've got a lot of support from the AIS and the Australian Sports Commission. I'm looking forward to spending time over there with my fiancé who is coming over and we'll be happy either way.
"I wouldn't hesitate to go to any team whether it be an internationally based team, an Anglo-Saxon, an Italian, a Spanish or a French team. It wouldn't bother me as long as I felt that it was the right way to go."