Former world time trial champion Amber Neben has been cleared to resume riding after a four-week rest to recover from a broken hand sustained at this year's world road race championship. The American will now be able to prepare for the upcoming season with the former Equipe Nürnberger, now Skyter team, alongside the team's new recruit, Olympic champion Nicole Cooke.
"I'm looking forward to next year - when you bring in someone like Nicole who can win the overall World Cup it really raises the morale on a team."
Despite having an injury-plagued season as time trial world champion, Neben, 34, said she is motivated to work to regain her rainbow bands when the championships head to Melbourne, Australia next year and has an eye on the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
"After an injury it's hard. There are still plenty of things I want to accomplish on the bike. Medaling in the Olympics is still a huge goal, especially after having tasted gold at Worlds."
Neben shattered her second metacarpal when she slammed into a metal barricade during the road race in Mendrisio, Switzerland in September.
"It was about halfway through the road race - Nicole Brändli had attacked and taken a group away, and I was at the front of the next group. We weren't too concerned because Marianne Vos, Nicole Cooke, Emma Johannson - all the women we expected to be in contention - were still behind," Neben told Cyclingnews about the events preceding the crash.
"Emma was getting antsy, and humped hard into a fast turn and Kristin [Armstrong] and I followed. Emma took a really aggressive line on the wet roads and just slid out. Kristin went down, and everything from there felt like it was in slow-motion.
"I was upright and took a wider approach to get around the fallen bodies and bikes - I was trying to figure out where to go, and I really didn't want to crash because I still had road rash healing from my wreck in the Giro Donne. But as I was going around I went into the metal barriers. There wasn't any padding and my left hand took the impact. It was such a forceful impact it spun me around."
Her orthopaedists, Dr. Eric Heiden and his wife Karen, were impressed with how severe the break was, Neben said. "I was really lucky the bones didn't break the skin, because that meant I could wait and decide where to have surgery. I didn't have any family at the race, and the last thing I wanted to do is have surgery in a foreign hospital where I didn't speak the language."
The injury came just two months after Neben had a skin graft on her right hand to repair damage sustained in a crash at the women's Giro d'Italia. While being examined at the Heiden's office in Park City, Utah, she discovered that she had also broken her shoulder in July.
After having a metal plate installed to hold the bones in her hand together and six days in a plaster cast, Neben was fitted with a custom splint and allowed to move her fingers but not put any weight on the hand.
She was cleared Monday to start doing light weight-bearing work.
"Dr. Heiden said that everything was still aligned," Neben said today. "You cannot see a lot of bone healing on an x-ray this early, but the important thing was to make sure that everything was still in order. I also made a visit to the hand specialist PT at the TOSC Physical Therapy in Park City. She made me a little splint that I can use on the bike.
"Basically, it is protection from a re-fracture. I am cleared to go outside and ride. However, the doctor asked me not to do out of the saddle riding that would put weight on the hand for a few more weeks. I also need some serious physical therapy work now to break up the scar tissue ...That won't be fun, but hopefully after a few sessions, I'll make big progress."
The forced stop came at the best possible time for Neben, who normally takes time off the bike in October to recover from the season. After a winter of training, she hopes to begin her 2010 season at the California Redlands Classic before heading over to Europe, but has added a new goal for next year: the US National Road Championships.
"I haven't been able to do them for the last few years, it always seems to conflict with one of the big European races, but I'd like to do them this year."
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