Will Walker has joined GreenEDGE cycling in a development role, with the view of becoming a sporting director in 2012.
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Australia's National Road Series on immediate agenda
Having made a premature exit from the sport in 2009 due to tachycardia, former Australian Champion Will Walker has announced he is returning to racing with Drapac Professional Cycling.
Walker, who claimed a silver medal in the under 23 road race at the 2005 UCI World Championships in Spain, has been given the all-clear by doctors to return to competition backing up the feeling within himself that he was ready to give racing a second dig.
The 26-year-old spoke to Cyclingnews following today's announcement by the Australian Continental outfit, explaining that a range of testing including regular electrocardiograms (ECGs), stress tests and echocardiograms indicate that he was back to full health.
"I just started doing some rides with my brothers [fellow cyclists Johnnie and Nick] and locally and I was going quite well off very little training and my heart was feeling good again and I just thought at 26, it was a good time to get back into it again and give it one last chance," Walker, who rode with Rabobank and Fuji Servetto in his previous racing life, said.
"I did a few times hard as I could uphill so I basically knew in myself that my heart was on the way back."
Drapac's sporting director, Agostino Giramondo, says the key to successful return by the two-time grand tour rider is sustainability.
"Will has been set a very thorough medical program to monitor his progress, which includes providing the team with a fortnightly report on his progress," he said in the Drapac's media release.
"The team is committed to helping Will reach his full potential once again on the bike but his health and general well being will always be a priority.
"We would class a healthy return to cycling a success and if he were able to achieve results on the road this would be an added bonus."
Fear once played a huge role in his sudden and sad demise. The mental reaction was understandable considering Walker's heart would be racing at 300 beats per minute while riding at a pace of less than 30km/h. How hard could he push his body? One could be forgiven for letting the same question stifle any moves to return but Walker explains that for him it's now a case of mind over matter.
"In the back of your mind if they're [the physical issues] there sometime it can cause it to come back," Walker told Cyclingnews. "When I had no problem it was a fantastic sign and my body is feeling healthier in general."
Cruelly relegated to the sidelines, Walker threw himself into his new life which was never far away from the racing environment which he loved, running the Australian distribution for Nalini clothing, working as DS for the Malaysian National Team and from mid-last year, a development role with GreenEdge. If there was time to even consider a possible return to racing, it was only ever in fleeting moments and rarely part of the new world he inhabited on the other side of the cycling fence.
"I didn't ever have time to think of it," Walker admits. "I just tried to get on. One thing, when you're an athlete you never really lose that dream of being at the top again but I guess in a way I did think about it but I never had it as part of reality.
"It's like being reborn almost, getting back into it again."
Walker considers working with GreenEdge while the project chased Australia's first ProTour licence, to have been a "privilege" and while he says that "no door's ever closed" believes that a return to racing with Drapac is a case of now or never.
"To be honest, probably the only way I would have ever come back would be with a team like Drapac that can really look after you and help get me through university," Walker, who will be undertaking a business degree majoring in finance, reveals. Drapac is unique in its philosophy which hinges on the premise of 'turning champion athletes into champion people', taking the time to ensure that those other life goals apart from results don't get lost in the sporting pursuit.
"They'll really help with looking after my body with all different types of western medicine. It's perfect. Otherwise I probably never would have done it. I'm pretty grateful to them as well."
For now, Walker is focussed on the Australian National Road Series, where he last made an appearance back in 2004 and well before any talk of him being a genuine contender for GC and a man for the hillier classics. The 2012 NRS gets underway with the Mersey Valley Tour in Tasmania on April 21, a race which at this point is only a "maybe" for the new Drapac recruit.
"One step at a time," he says. "I'm happy just to race. I don't have any lofty ambitions at the moment. I just want to enjoy it and help out the team where I can and get back out there."