Emilia Fahlin: Down but never out

Swedish road race champion Emilia Fahlin (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope on the attack at the 2019 Tour of Flanders
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Emilia Fahlin will embark on her 15th season in professional cycling when she races in the women’s edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, and despite a rocky two years that were disrupted by a serious head injury, a global pandemic, and a freak accident in last year’s Giro Rosa, the 32-year-old is as excited as ever to be back in the saddle.

The FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope rider moved back to her native Sweden during the winter after spending over a decade in the cycling hotbed of Girona and has spent the last few weeks fine-tuning her form and condition before her first competitive outing on the cobbles. She will bring experience and power to a team that also includes Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Brodie Chapman, and while Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is just the start of the campaign Fahlin has some major ambitions for the season.

“This is a massive year for me, with the Olympics, and the Classics,” she told Cyclingnews.

“I’ve been to Tokyo to see the courses but there’s also the Worlds and the European Championships as well. It’s a big championships year and we have the Classics, which I love and have a huge passion for. We’ve got a lot of strength in our team and we can really make a lot of impact.”

The fact that Fahlin is even on another start line and ready to compete is a testament to her ability and fortitude. She has bounced back from several setbacks in recent times, with the first of those occurring in June 2019 when she suffered a major injury whilst out training. She was forced to miss several months of the season and take a break from cycling altogether as part of her recovery.

“I was out training and descending in Girona,” she recalls.

“I had my eyes on the next corner, but I hit a rock at high speed, punctured my front wheel, and went over the handlebars. I hit the back of my head and I was actually out alone, so I was lucky that a car stopped to help me. I ended up going to the hospital and they did a scan. There was nothing broken because my head took the brunt of the fall but there was subdural bleeding. I had to stay in the hospital for some and it wasn’t just a concussion but I was lucky that I didn’t need surgery.  For me, the worst was the concussion and the process because it took another three months before I felt like I could return to challenging. I’m lucky and it gave me perspective on health in general, recovery, and my life. It took a long time before I could get back on the bike again, and it makes me happy. To be back racing on a high level is a massive step for me.”

Fahlin, who turned pro back in 2007 with T-Mobile – returned to racing at the end of the 2019 season and picked up a handful of top-ten places, as well as 15th in the World Championships in Yorkshire, and she carried that form in last season with a fine fourth place in Spar - Omloop van het Hageland - Tienen - Tielt-Winge. The Covid-19 pandemic obliterated her season until the summer and as soon as the results began to flow she suffered her second major setback.

“2020 started well but there was nothing I could do with the pandemic. You just have to accept that some things are out of your hands but it was difficult because I always want to race. I wanted to come back for a full season but it wasn’t to be," she said.

“But then when I can back again in July last year I had another injury in the Giro Rosa and broke my hand. That lead to surgery but it’s a crazy story because there was no crash or fall. I just took a musette in the feedzone.”

“It was the longest stage and I took a feed at speed and I’d never heard of someone breaking their hand by taking a bottle but I immediately felt that something was wrong. I couldn’t grab the bars but I got through the stage, had an x-ray, and that was it, race over. During the race, no one could quite believe it. I ended up missing my first Worlds in 13 years.”

Once more Fahlin recovered and she returned to racing with second place in the Swedish national road championships and fifth in Brabantse Pijl. The bad luck and setbacks would be enough to at least dent most riders' enthusiasm but Fahlin has come to treat the last few seasons as obstacles she needed to climb and that those experiences have given her more experience and knowledge as a bike rider and as a person.

“It was just another obstacle in another difficult season but I came back again. I came back after the pandemic break, found a good result with seventh in La Course, and was coming into good form and then to the Giro and just had a shit incident. As soon as the cast was off I started racing and had some good results, despite not having the proper preparation. I keep coming back and I won’t ever give up. What I’ve learned is to be adaptive and to a bit easier going but I love cycling, I love racing and just being out on the bike. That never changes.”

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.