Trixi Worrack has plenty of victories on her palmares, including the Primavera Rosa, the Tours of California and Qatar, and two world team time trial titles, but she describes her victory in the individual time trial at this year's German national championships as the best moment of her 16-year career to date.
That's because it came in the "most difficult" season she's had and on the back of the "worst injury" she's ever sustained – the 35-year-old underwent emergency surgery in March to remove a kidney that had been ruptured in three places due to a crash at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
"At first in hospital I didn't know if I could even continue as a pro cyclist," Worrack tells Cyclingnews at the Canyon-SRAM team training camp on Mallorca.
"You have no idea - I never had experience with the kidney stuff - so I was in hospital for a week and didn't even know I could even continue with pro cycling, because you don't know if the second kidney is working and taking over from the first one. That was the hardest bit about it."
The injury was all the more wounding given the way Worrack had started the season, winning the Tour of Qatar and finishing on the podium in the Ronde van Drenthe. The operation was a success, though, and she managed to get back on the bike by mid-May.
"I was riding again but there were complications with the stomach because they had to cut all my muscles. Normally you cut into the kidney from the back, but they had to take it out from the front. I couldn't move my left side," she explains.
"The first weeks of training were really hard. I started on the trainer but couldn't bend my body properly. It took me two weeks maybe before I was feeling ok again."
She returned to racing at the Auensteiner-Radsporttage stage race in Germany in mid-June and, after three race days there, lined up on the start ramp at the nationals in Streufdorf.
"It wasn't the biggest victory of my career, but I think it was the best moment," she says. "Mentally, it was really hard for me. It took me so much energy to come back and I'd worked so hard. In the end I was happy to be back so quickly, and at a good level – not just coming back and struggling the whole time. That was really needed to continue in a good way."
Worrack may have bounced back in the perfect way, but the injury has left lasting consequences that will make it difficult to add to her win count in the final couple of years of her career.
"I'm not sure if I will have the same level as normal," she acknowledges. "I realise now that I need more recovery days because I don't recover so well any more with just one kidney. The kidney cleans the body, and [when you are] racing a lot it helps you recover."
Worrack's goals in the future will be less result-orientated and increasingly geared around using her experience to help her teammates in what is a youthful Canyon-SRAM set-up.
The German remembers those who guided her through her early years as a professional and wants to do the same for those now coming through the ranks. She sees herself taking on a coaching and mentoring role once her racing career is over but, with two years left on her contract, she'll be hoping to transmit her experience from within the peloton for the time being.
"For me, it's no longer a case of saying, 'I have to win this, this, and this'. For me it's fine that I can still cycle. My goals now are teaching the girls and also helping out in races. Winning is not necessary, in my opinion. I'm motivated and want to be really good in the races, but I won't judge success by victories.
"[Mentoring others] is a role I really enjoy. I would like to stay on at the team and become a coach, teaching the girls. I've seen so many races, so the experience is there."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.