Abercrombie & Fitch's criterium strong man Mark Hekman, winner of this year's Athens Twilight criterium, looked like a shoo-in to win the USA Crits series until a broken heel smashed his shot at stepping onto the top of the final podium in Las Vegas next month. Hekman was leading out his team-mate Marco Aledia in the US Elite Criterium Championship when the rainy, slick conditions spelled his demise.
"I was leading out Marco on the last lap – with two corners to go we were looking good. I was taking the outside line on the last turn to move up when I slid out – my heel smashed into the curb, my bike shattered into pieces. It hurt so much, I thought I was going to die." Aledia took sixth in the race, while Hekman watched his chance at winning the USA Crits series wash down the storm drains in Downer's Grove.
"I broke my heel in two places," he told Cyclingnews. "I'll have surgery tomorrow in Cleveland – they'll screw it back together, and then it will be ten weeks before I can put weight on it. I'm not sure when I can get back on the bike," he lamented. Hekman only had to ride out the last two events of the eight-race series and score a few points to clinch the win, but now stands a chance of falling from the overall lead which he holds by 146 points over AEG-Toshiba's Frank Traveiso and 182 points over Traveiso's team-mate, Yosvany Falcon.
"The worst I can get is third [overall], so for sure I'll still go to Vegas to watch. We're still first in the team competition," so Hekman will certainly get some podium time despite his injury. His win in Athens Twilight was a career and life-changing event – something that saw him give up his partying days and adopt a more serious attitude towards training and racing. But now that he's off the bike, he joked, "I'm looking forward to drinking beer for a while."
The break comes nearly one year to the day that he hit a dog while out training and broke his wrist, but he was philosophical about the bad luck. "I had a good run – it was a really good year," he said. "$#!& happens. I'm definitely racing next year -and I'll be back with a vengeance!"