Twelve weeks ago Ed Clancy's entire cycling career lay in the balance. The three-time Olympic medallist was lying in a hospital bed after undergoing back surgery, and the World Championships, the Rio Olympic Games, even returning to the boards at all seemed a long way off.
Since then, however, Clancy, with the full support of some of the best surgeons in the land, British Cycling and his fellow team pursuiters, has relearned how to walk, returned to the Manchester velodrome – albeit with a different position on the bike – and gained selection for the UCI Track World Championships.
This week the 30-year-old will race as part of the five-man Great Britain team in the team pursuit - an event in which he has taken a gold medal during the past two Olympics. Although the team's place in the men's Omnium has gone to Mark Cavendish, Clancy's mere selection for the Championships marks a significant victory in itself.
"My whole career was in doubt. I genuinely couldn't walk. I had foot drop because the nerve was compromised. When I came out of the operation and could walk again I thought that anything after was a bonus. If I could ride a bike great, if I can make a career out of it, even better. I've been lucky to have been surrounded by the best surgeons and doctors. Without those guys I wouldn't be here," Clancy told Cyclingnews and a select group of journalists at a pre-Worlds event in Manchester.
The rider's back problems stemmed from a freak accident that took place last season. Just after the Tour of Britain in September the Barnsley born rider went to pick up his suitcase. It was almost empty at the time but the movement triggered a reaction that would land him with a slipped disc and on an operating table months later.
"From the back surgery the surgeons were saying that I needed two weeks of solid bed rest and just learning how to walk again. It's twelve weeks and a day since the surgery and two of those weeks we tried to walk, and then for two of those weeks we spent riding a mountain bike and trying to get back into a road position. We spent about five of those weeks training on a turbo trainer properly and then the last ten days on the track."
With less than a fortnight of real training under his belt, Clancy essentially had to audition for his place last weekend in a closed door event in Manchester. The times and performances were good enough for selection and Clancy will play a part – although it's not clear how significant – in Great Britain's team pursuit team.
"Before every championships we have a dress rehearsal and you basically turn up and show what you've got. That was last weekend and doesn't mean that with the efforts we make now the selectors aren't looking and suss out the team but that was a big day for all of us."
"I'm feeling surprisingly good. I think that it's fair to say that this isn't the best that I've ever gone but twelve weeks after serious back surgery I'm over the moon."
Come Wednesday, when the team compete for the first time, Clancy will undoubtedly feel the pressure of returning to competition. However, there's no doubt that given his rapid progression since surgery, Clancy will grasp the opportunity with both hands and a sense of freedom.
"It's a different feel for me, these World Championships, because in past events you spend a year before dreaming about what results you're going to get and for me anything is a massive bonus. I'm just happy to be riding my bike again."
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