A frightening crash on December 5 will rob Drapac's Adam Phelan of the chance to compete at the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships but the 20-year-old is finding comfort in the knowledge that he could instead be faced with a situation far more grave.
"Nationals were definitely a race that I'd been targeting and thinking about going for for a while so it is pretty disappointing to now miss it but I'll have lots of nationals in my lifetime and a lot more races this season to focus on," he told Cyclingnews.
Phelan still has no memory of the incident which occurred during a team training camp in the Victorian high country, described so eloquently on his blog as "a moment of darkness."
I had just finished joking with my director Agostino [Giramondo – Ed.] about his upcoming turn on the front when we changed partners. I was chatting away, near the back of the pack, and we rode smoothly and calmly along the tarmac. Then there is nothing. My mind only offers the blackness of absent memory and a few flashes that all lead to my somewhat clear recollection of being in hospital, confused and stuck in a neck brace.
It must now be the memory others, those who were with me, that allows the tale to continue. Returning to the ride, to the warm sun and my tired legs on the way back to Bright, we rode along the highway. Ahead, a large rock sat arrogantly in our path. The riders in front pointed out the arrogant rock, but it was a large bunch, and I didn't see it. It was quick; I hit the rock hard. In seconds, I met the ground in a rough and ugly tangle with my head taking the majority of the impact. Just like that, in an instant, I was down.
Unconscious for several minutes, the Canberra-based rider also suffered seizures immediately following the sickening incident. After an 80 kilometre rush to hospital, it was discovered that although nothing was broken, Phelan was suffering a bleed on the brain. His helmet took the brunt of the impact and remarkably remained intact despite large depression on its right side.
"Head injuries are always a concerning part of the sport," Phelan admitted. "Crashing's a part of cycling so you've just got to be wary of that and always wear your helmet when you're out training and everything – I know I definitely will all the time. I was lucky enough to come out of it alright."
A meeting with his neurosurgeon in the days before Christmas revealed that the recovery process was far too important to risk getting back to riding on the road before the end of January.
"I'll have another scan and a couple more meetings with the neurosurgeon – that's because of the injury and also, if I were to hit my head again that early it could cause permanent or much worse damage," Phelan explained of the weeks to come. "Lots of training on the ergo until then, if you break your collarbone it's the same sort of thing."
Phelan's form in the back end of 2011 had been strong, runner-up on Stage 2 of the Goulburn to Sydney and on GC, third on the opening stage of the Tour of Hainan and then seventh overall, second on stage 2 at the Tour de Okinawa, before an aggressive showing at the NSW Grand Prix Series. Add to that the fact that he, along with Lachlan Norris, played a major role of keeping teammate Rhys Pollock in the mix at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour in October and it had been a solid few months.
At January's Nationals, held from the 5th to the 10th, Phelan's plan had been to ride in support of teammates Tom Palmer or Pat Drapac in the under 23 criterium in his build up to both the road race and time trial. Instead, the communications student will now look towards his debut appearance at the Tour of Langkawi in late February following a hopefully incident-free team training camp.
After that, Phelan will head to Europe with the squad to build on the experience gained from racing there in 2011. Phelan performed admirably in his baptism of fire among the sport's biggest names including Philippe Gilbert but second time around, he is hoping to take his racing to the next level.
"My last season was big so it's about taking little steps and just learning what I can," he said hopefully. "I could do well but it's hard to get used to the racing there because it's completely different. I want my racing in Europe to be, my main goal... Europe's where cycling's at."