Simon Gerrans doesn’t even attempt to hide his disappointment for missing Milan-San Remo, so keen is he to return to racing after his comeback from a previously fractured collarbone lasted 110 kilometres before he crashed out again at Strade Bianche in Italy on March 20.
“I am a big cycling fan, but it was hard watching when you know you can be out there and mixing it up and that sort of thing,” The Orica-GreenEdge rider told Cyclingnews. “It is difficult to watch a race like that, but I was definitely on the edge of my seat like everyone else.”
Gerrans, 34, was not talking from his European base in Monaco, but from Girona in Spain. Afterwards he went for a two hour ride to test how his fractured elbow suffered in his Strade Bianche crash has recovered, and then he returned to confirm that he is confident of making a second comeback at the Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja on April 5, followed by the Vuelta al Pais Vasco that starts the next day and finishes on April 11.
But Milan-San Remo was still on Gerrans’ mind: both for how the race panned out for his 24 year-old Orica-GreenEdge teammate Michael Matthews, who finished third, and for what he gleaned from the race that was won by German John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
“Michael gave himself every opportunity,” Gerrans said. “He rode a really good position on the Poggio and the descent and was right where he needed to be at the finish. But when you look at it, he was just out-powered by a couple of guys [Degenkolb and Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff] there in the finale.
“Kristoff led the sprint out and he hung on for second and Degenkolb came from a fair way back pushing the wind. The guys that were in front of him were pretty strong guys. He probably missed a bit in the finale, but under the circumstances it looked like he did everything he could.”
From something bad … something good
While Gerrans would have loved to have watched Milan-San Remo from within the peloton and on his bike rather than from the sofa, he found added purpose to the situation forced upon him: that being, to analyse the tactics and the form of rivals for future reference.
“Before for all my big races I make sure I jump online and YouTube,” Gerrans says. “I watch all the previous editions [of a race] to see what happened, what’s in the race and what you can pick up tactically about what sort of riders [are there], where they like to make their moves, and where guys start their attacks from on certain climbs.
“You pick up a lot watching a race … analyse what is going on, who is doing what.”
However, there is only so much time away from the peloton that can be tolerated by a professional rider like Gerrans, who was to have started his season defending his titles in both the Australian road titles and then Tour Down Under, but apart from those first 110 kilometres in Strade Bianche he has otherwise been sidelined through injury.
“I’m jack of riding the home trainer. It’s time to get back on the road and test things,” said Gerrans, who was to have returned at the Volta a Catalunya that finishes on Sunday but changed plans when a ride last Thursday indicated he wasn’t quite right.
“That didn’t go so well. It was still quite sore. So … following that I knew I was not going to be ready for Catalunya for which I was pretty disappointed about …”
Gerrans said his fracture – in the radial head of the elbow – is a common one, but at the same time was “delicate” because of its sensitivities when holding the handlebars.
“I had my arm in a sling for about a week or so …,” Gerrans explains. “And then on the home trainer I had my arm in a splint that was holding it close to being straight to pulling the elbow and preventing any rotation in my forearm. That was a little awkward because … you use your arms quite a lot in cycling and not being able to rotate your forearm pretty much restricts where you can hold on to the handlebars.
“It’s a pretty quite delicate injury and you have to be careful with it for a little while. But from what I understand once it starts to come good, it comes good quite quickly.”
By racing the Vuelta Ciclista a La Rioja before the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Gerrans believes he will get properly to trial his elbow in race conditions, but on easier terrain.
“I raced [Rioja] last year for the first time,” Gerrans says. “It’s not a World Tour race … it’s a lower level. The terrain is not so hard and it will be a bunch sprint. It would be a nice way to get back into the peloton and do four hours or so in a bunch before starting in the Basque Country, which is one of the hardest races of the season.”
Gerrans also hopes the Rioja race will sharpen his feel and instincts within the peloton that he has been out of for so long until lining up for the World Tour Pais Vasco.
“You have to get a bit of a feel back,” Gerrans says. “The big thing you notice when you haven’t been racing for a while is the concentration it requires.
“I really noticed that coming back for Strade Bianche. With that being my first race for quite some time, just being back in the group and having to be really concentrated.
“You don’t have to have that real high level of concentration in training like you do in racing, so it is something you actually have to get used to again.”
Addresing the root of the problem
Ironically, Gerrans’ crash in Strade Bianche was an innocuous one and of no fault of his own – but poor timing.
“It was a silly little crash,” Gerrans recalls. “As reputable as Strade Bianchi is with it being on the white dirt and how dangerous it could be … it happened on a bitumen climb when we weren’t going fast.
“It was just a complete silly crash where someone in front of me hit the wheel. They unclipped with one foot and to avoid them I stopped quite quickly. I grabbed my break and actually gone up on my front wheel a little bit.
“Then the guy behind me had nowhere to go so he ran into the back of me, and what that did … it just tipped me over the top. The shock went through the palm of my hand up to my elbow and put a little fracture in the end of radial head.
“It was pretty disappointing to be finally back out there and racing, which I was really excited about after a long lay off, and at the first race back having another set back.
“It’s been tough to deal with, but hopefully we’re nearly through the other side of it.”
Gerrans said he will put off firming his program until his sees his condition at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, adding that he’ll “be happy just to get back out to the bunch. I am a llanner.”
“But for now we’ve said, ‘Let’s just get back out on the road and get through this period,’ and make sure I’m right and racing for the Tour of the Basque Country.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)