Elynor Backstedt (Trek-Segafredo) has resumed light training after sending five months in a full leg cast followed by an orthopaedic boot to correct a spiral fracture sustained in a crash while mountain biking in May.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, the 18-year-old said she still has some pain when rotating her foot to clip in and out of her pedals, and walks with a slight limp, but that she is otherwise healing well and looking forward to getting back to racing bikes in 2021.
"It was a big, big, big break and it took a long time to even get the cast off," Backstedt said. "I was in the cast up to mid-thigh from May through July, and then I got a boot to wear through September. They needed to stabilise everything enough until they thought it would be OK to bend my leg.
"It took a long time to heal. It was a spiral fracture of the tibia, and I have done this before on the same leg, so there is a little bit of a weakness there. The only way I can describe it is that it goes all the way around the bone, rather than a clean snap, that runs from above my ankle up to the middle of my shin."
Trek-Segafredo confirmed in May that Backstedt, the youngest rider on the Women's WorldTeam, had fractured her tibia in a mountain biking crash.
Backstedt's father, Magnus, said he was with her when she crashed while they were mountain biking in local forests close to their family home in South Wales. She was descending a steep off-road section at around 10km/h when her front wheel lost traction and slipped away, causing her to fall.
Backstedt was transported to the nearby Royal Glamorgan Hospital where X-rays confirmed that she had a spiral fracture of the tibia. After consultation with her doctors and family, they decided not to operate on the fractured leg, but rather undergo treatment through a cast and leg boot.
"There was talk of pinning it but because of the type of break, they would have had to run a pole down my shin, starting at the knee and then through the heel. I would then need to have it removed, which could cause knee problems. Because of my age, they were hoping it would just heal back to normal. Having an operation might have been quicker, but maybe worse in the long-run. There were lots of talks and we decided against the surgery," Backstedt said.
"I am now out of the boot and I am able to ride a little bit. I'm about 98 per cent recovered. I still have a limp when I walk, clipping in and out of the pedals is painful, and there are a few things that are not back to normal. Pain-wise, I would say that I'm almost back to normal, but not able to train anywhere near as much as I could. That's OK because you've got to start somewhere.
"It will be slow and we want to make sure everything is as strong as possible. I'm young so we don't need to rush things and have further problems in the future. It's all about building strength back each day and slowly building back to full fitness."
Backstedt was in her first year of a two-year contract with Trek-Segafredo and she said her team has been very supportive during her recovery process.
"They've been absolutely amazing, and they've been there for me for anything that I've needed. Someone has always been on the other end of the phone if I had any worries, team doctors have looked at X-rays and given second opinions, and our director Ina [Teutenberg] has visited me because I live near the service course.
"It's frustrating that I didn’t get to race this year but I'm only 18 and I have a long career ahead of me," she said.
Paris-Roubaix: The cobbles are lethal
Backstedt aims to be back to racing as soon as possible, while being sensible about her recovery plan. She believes it can be demoralising to return to racing too soon after an injury without the proper time spent on training and preparing for the demands of racing at the WorldTour level.
"I trust the team and my coaches and my physios, and we are working very hard to get back to where I was before the accident," she said.
She is hoping to be back to racing in time for the spring Classics, and particularly the first-ever women's Paris-Roubaix next April, but understands that is only five months away.
"I think having that race is a massive step forward for women's cycling. It's been a race that I've wanted to happen for so long, and I've always hoped that I could one day ride that race," Backstedt said.
"It's a step forward in equality in our sport. It will become the biggest one-day race of the year, and I'm sure I will be able to race it at some point. I would like to race it next year, but it's only months away."
The inaugural women's Paris-Roubaix was a surprise addition to the revised Women's WorldTour calendar this October, but was postponed due to COVID-19. The race is now set to take place for the first time in April.
ASO announced the route details in September, with a start in Denain, south of Roubaix. The peloton was to race 116 kilometres before finishing on the famous Roubaix Velodrome. There were going to be 17 sectors of cobbled roads with the pavé beginning after just 20km of racing.
Two sectors were rated at the maximum difficulty level: Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l'Arbre, while cobbles were to take up 29.5km of the race route.
"I did the mini Paris-Roubaix when I was 15 and it didn't have that many sectors," Backstedt said. "I've also ridden a few sections with my dad in the past – not racing, but out on training rides. The cobbles are pretty savage and you wouldn't find them in any other part of the world. I can tell you that they are lethal. If it rains, they are so slippery and covered in mud, but it's a special thing to ride on them."
Backstedt's parents were both professional cyclists. Her father, Magnus Backstedt, won Paris-Roubaix in 2004 and her mother, Megan Hughes, was the 1998 British road race champion.
"My parents are both so excited that a women's Paris-Roubaix is actually happening," she said.
"My dad didn't have any words – he was just so happy. He was quite emotional that my sister [Zoë Backstedt] and I can one day race in the race that he loves so much. Maybe one day he will be either commentating on us riding it or watching us riding it. He was so happy that it's happening."
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