American Chad Gerlach's return to cycling following a six-year drug habit and time spent panhandling and homeless was a heart-warming story that made for inspirational reality television this summer. But recent his slide back into his former ways came as a shock to his Amore & Vita team manager Cristian Fanini.
The Italian had no indication that Gerlach was having problems sticking to his sober lifestyle until September, when Gerlach was supposed to race at the USA Crits finale in Las Vegas.
Fanini sensed there was a problem when many phone calls and e-mail messages went unreturned, and finally in the days before the race, his fears were confirmed. He explained that he was afraid that there might have been problems with Gerlach's girlfriend Jamie, who was to give birth to the couple's first child.
"From that moment I began to worry, not so much for Chad because I repeat, he had never shown signs of concern at that time. My concern was given to the baby girl who was supposed to be born soon. All that silence made me think that maybe something serious had happened to her.
"Finally, just the day that Chad would have to be committed in Las Vegas, his girlfriend Jamie sent a brief message on Facebook to [directeur sportif] Roberto Gaggioli said that Chad had run away from home, was living back on the streets among the homeless and again was dependent on alcohol and possibly drugs.
"At that moment I felt destroyed and very disappointed, you cannot imagine how."
Gerlach, 36, was a promising domestic rider who enjoyed several top results in his early career in the late 1990s, but then fell into a spiral of drug addiction that landed him on the streets for six years. He was the subject of a television show called "Intervention" last year, and was convinced to enter a rehabilitation program and get sober.
Late last year, he began training again, joined Amore & Vita and had stunning successes in the US where he won the Tour de Nez and put in strong performances in the Air Force Classic and Nature Valley Grand Prix.
That all stopped sometime at the end of the summer when Gerlach vanished from the team's radar. His team manager was crushed to find that he'd relapsed, and was ready to take the drastic step of flying to the US to find Gerlach and bring him back to Italy.
"It is clear that this attempt was not for cycling, but to take him off the streets and away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol. Once he would be here we would have helped him in every way to regain sobriety and we would give moral and psychological support and monitored constantly since he would live in a house with other athletes."
News came from Gerlach's father that the Faninis would have to wait until Chad decided it was time to return to his rehab program himself.
"Now all we can do is wait for a signal from him because as his father says we can't do anything if it doesn't come something directly from him," said Fanini.
"The latest news I got yesterday from his father is that he returned home to help his girlfriend with the baby girl and seems that he wants to follow a treatment for detoxification from drugs and alcohol. Also, he seems to want start cycling again."
Fanini was impassioned about his intentions for Gerlach, stating strongly that he, his family and team wish to do anything they can to help bring him back to a normal life.
"I'm not sure if he can make it as a rider and to be honest this is not important to me. I want him to go back at normal life as a sober man. I already told his family that myself, Gaggioli, my father and all our team is at disposal for any kind of help and at anytime.
"If he wants he can come back to us whenever he will be ready. Regardless from what he will be doing he will be always welcome at Amore & Vita. Now I pray for him and I am confident somehow he will make it."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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