Matthew Lloyd would like to make a few things clear.
"I wasn't running around, trashing hotel rooms," he told Cyclingnews. "I wasn't out at night coming home before the first stage at 5am. I certainly wasn't in any difficulty or drama with my teammates because they're all fantastic guys. You can hear as many stories like that as you want.
"This was purely about the body and the recovery process which was longer than I had anticipated and it was pretty simple."
The 2011 Giro d'Italia has begun and the 2010 green jersey winner is at his home in Italy, taking on the laborious task of painting the interior of his house. He describes the walls current shade as a "really bad off-white/orange." When he's finished they will be "a pretty stock standard white." He says it's about bringing back "a bit of normality." The same could be said for the steps he's been taking in recent weeks following his sacking by his team of five years, Omega Pharma-Lotto.
Lloyd isn't sitting down every day in front of the television for six hours watching the Giro unfold.
"There's always another Giro and another set of races to come up so that's something you've got to keep in the back of your mind," he explained. "Knowing that you've been there and had good time, it provides more motivation than anything else to get back and make sure that everything's in the right place this time..."
So how did he get here?
Lloyd was on a training ride in St Kilda near Melbourne in late December last year when he was involved in a traffic incident. The result was a broken right rotator cuff and damage to his upper vertebrae. At the time, he said he had hoped that the ligaments and muscles were intact – but fate would have it that they weren't.
The Australian returned to training on Valentine's Day but he was struck by a car again. Lloyd said he sustained some slight ligament damage to his knee following the accident but even then, he was optimistic about the events.
"It sort of made me take it a bit easier and not go too crazy at the start," he said at the time. "I think it was good to build into [training] gradually and the knee made me tentative to try and replicate what it would be if I was racing."
While the injury to his shoulder was the main issue, Lloyd still ignored advice to get his knee x-rayed. However, there was still a lot of work to do on his scapula. The right side of his torso had become weak over the process of his recovery.
Lloyd had been named to start for Omega Pharma-Lotto in the Tour of Catalunya, March 21-27. He didn't start the race.
He then got through all but the final stage time trial of Pais Vasco, "it was painful but nothing dramatic," Lloyd recalled of the event from the first week in April. It was the last race he would partake in prior to his sacking.
"We wish to inform you that the collaboration between Matthew Lloyd and the Omega Pharma-Lotto team is discontinued," the team said in a statement on its website on April 14.
"Recent incidents during the first races disputed in 2011 by Matthew for our team made this collaboration impossible. Our team's image cannot be connected to Matthew's behaviour any more, therefore the unanimous decision taken by the BCC board of directors. We follow a policy of zero tolerance of which we cannot divert."
The team was clear that the 27-year-old's dismissal had nothing to do with "the use of forbidden products" – so the question many were left asking was, what happened?
UCI regulations state that a rider's contract may be terminated for: "refusal to ride cycle races, despite being repeatedly called on to do so by the Team." Given the content of a recent blog entry on his personal website, and there's more on that, specifically where Lloyd had written : "As some people have come to notice (including myself), the tour of Catalunya in spain was in a word: participation-less.."
"I'm not going to try and smash everyone's eye-balls in with different physical and mental reasons trying to justify why I didn't race, but it wasn't happening. Obviously!!"
There was some suggestion that Lloyd had in fact, refused to race. As it turns out, that wasn't quite the case as he explained to Cyclingnews.
"The 'behaviour' itself was me coming to Catalunya," he clarified. "I wasn't ready mentally and physically and they picked up on that pretty immediately. I turned up but I wasn't ready. On my behalf it was relatively uncommunicative because had I told them that things weren't crash hot with the body beforehand, then maybe they could have done something about that. The ramifications of that are obviously bad when it comes to a business perspective.
"It was time to change it up – they knew that, and deep down I knew that as well."
One day at a time
Sure, it's a cliché used all-too regularly in sport, but it's a reality for Lloyd as he takes the time to recover properly – both mentally and physically from his injuries. It's something he admits he should have done the first time around, but reality is never quite that simple.
Lloyd knew that it was important that he return to the Giro and defend his green jersey – not only for himself but for Omega Pharma-Lotto. If there was pressure to perform and be at the level required to do so, he says it was "subconscious." There isn't a specific point where he felt stressed knowing that he had to come back 100 per cent, but it was there nonetheless.
A dramatic crash in the Amstel Gold Race in 2009 resulted in Lloyd fracturing his sacrum and suffering six broken vertebrae. He resumed riding 12 days later. This time around, he wasn't bouncing back so quickly and it played on his mind.
"The little note book in the back of my head is always jotting down little points," Lloyd said, referring to the fact that patience isn't always something easily learnt. "The notebook after the last couple of months is probably full - I need to go down to the shops and buy a new one."
Lloyd has been working with Australia's Elite Training Centre which recently opened in Varese. A lot of time has been spent in the gym, working on his strength which, all things going to plan, should allow him to climb even better. There's also what Lloyd calls his "centre punch" – basically his core strength.
"It might result in, after a couple of months a few more kilograms to deal with but if they're kilograms that make me more powerful, you can always use that as a benefit," he said.
If you managed to get hit by a car twice in three months, chances are that you'd feel unlucky. That's not the case with Lloyd. "Things can happen at any time," he said. "It's a part of what we do."
While he clearly wasn't in a good place, Lloyd was never disillusioned with the sport and that's why he's been working so hard to get back in the peloton – something he's hoping to do sooner rather than later.
"I don't particularly feel that the rest of the season should be left without any racing purely because firstly, I love racing and secondly I think it would be a waste to know the way that the body feels now and the progression I've had - despite the earlier setbacks – there's no way that I couldn't get back into the action and get amongst it at some point this season," he explained.
"Obviously it depends on the team – it's a matter of business and fortune."
Lloyd hopes to be able to make an announcement on his future in coming weeks.
Those blog entries
To say that Lloyd is a deep thinker is somewhat putting it lightly. He has a way of being cryptic that would make the Riddler blush. Even talking about his current process of rejuvenation, he likens it to downloading a program to upgrade his ‘computer'.
Lloyd uses analogies that would be right at home in science fiction, and around the time of his sacking, it caused some concern. It left Lloyd as an author feeling puzzled.
"My blog entries are basically ad-lib thoughts... rather than sitting around for hours trying to calculate what I'm going to say to the world," he explained. "I know I'm totally in control of my lifestyle and my health and everything surrounding cycling."
"There's been a lot of people trying to make sure that everything is okay and it's like, 'well, yeah – it is'. I haven't lost my mind, I haven't gone crazy. Things were just different after December."
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