Exactly one year ago on May 9 Svein Tuft celebrated his 37th birthday in the maglia rosa after Orica-GreenEdge won the Giro d'Italia's opening team time trial in Belfast. It was an experience he hoped to relive this Saturday when the Italian Grand Tour kicks off in San Lorenzo al Mare, however, serious injuries sustained in a crash during the Tour de Romandie last week have sidelined him from this year's race.
"I don't normally get too upset about this sort of stuff. I've always said there's plenty of racing during a season. But for me, as far as my career goes, this is a huge letdown," Tuft told Cyclingnews.
"This race has always been a really big part of my season and something that I've always done. It sets up the rest of your year, but also the experiences you have during it… We always try and send a really good team and this year would be, and will be, one of our best showings. I really wanted to be apart of that whole crew that's going."
Tuft settled into his new home in Andorra last fall, and reaped the benefits of a no-travel off-season that led into a solid block of winter training. He was on track for a successful start to the 2015 season with a schedule lined up that targeted Tirreno-Adriatico in March, a few of the Classics in April and then Tour de Romandie, all in preparation for a strong performance at the Giro d'Italia, and maybe even a shot at the first leader's jersey again.
He couldn't have anticipated the series of crashes and race-ending injuries that wound up throwing a wrench into his early-season plans. He first crashed during the second stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and damaged the ligaments in his right shoulder. That injury took him out of the seven-day WorldTour race and stopped him from racing the Classics. He took nearly seven weeks off to recover and rebuild strength before his return to the peloton at the Tour de Romandie, only to experience a second crash during stage 2 from Apples - Saint-Imier last Wednesday.
"I was bring up bottles on the left side of the road just before the last climb," Tuft recounted the accident. "Coming into the last climb of the day, it's always a little bit of a fight, so guys aren't willing to give you much room. There was a guardrail and a curb that went out into the road just at the same time as the peloton moved left. I was pinned up against that and didn't have anywhere to go and so fell onto the railing. There was a pole there to support the railing that was sticking up by another foot, and I pegged that at about 50 km/hour with my chest.
"That's the problem, it's my chest. My wrist fractured, but breaks are sort of normal. The chest injury was scary because it was right above my heart. The thorax, my doctor reckons, it's fractured but those things are so hard to pick up... breathing is painful.
"I think that the water bottles that I was carrying down the front of my jersey saved me because that pole should have done more damage. Anytime you hit something that hard and at that speed it would be worse. Those water bottles were like little airbags."
Tuft's doctors confirmed a fracture in his wrist but haven't yet ruled out a chest fracture. He will get another x-ray to be sure in 10 days. In the meantime, he is trying to keep a positive outlook.
"I've found over these couple of experiences that you can't dwell on this stuff because you'll really crack yourself. You just have to focus on how you're going to comeback stronger, and look at the positive side."
On Monday, Orica-GreenEdge announced that the team will focus on stage wins with a roster that includes Simon Gerrans, Sam Bewley, Esteban Chaves, Simon Clarke, Luke Durbridge, Michael Hepburn, Brett Lancaster, Michael Matthews and Pieter Weening.
While Tuft is heartbroken not to be a part of the team that will take the start line at the opening team time trial from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo on Saturday, he is confident that the nine men chosen to represent Orica-GreenEdge during the three-week race will be a success.
"The guys that are going are all really good. Pieter Weening was a part of last year's team time trial win and he is super strong. Our actual team time trialling crew; Durbridge, Lancaster, Bewley and Hepburn, who is going like you wouldn't believe, will all be great.
"Simon Gerrans was a part of the Tour de France team time trial win  and he was on the team that was second in Romandie last week as well. Simon Clarke was a part of the Tour de France team time trial win too. I think they have a great team going.
"I'm excited to watch the team time trial on Saturday. It will be very hard to watch but I'm really excited for those guys," Tuft said.
Canadian to turn attention to Tour de France and Richmond Worlds
Tuft is a nine-time national time trial champion and has played an essential role in Orica-GreenEdge's team time trialling success over the years with highlights that include winning the Giro d'Italia opener last year and the Tour de France stage 4 event in 2013. The team has also been on the podium three times at the World Championships in the event with two second places (2013 and 2014) and one third place (2012).
He expressed his appreciation for the discipline when he said, "In cycling, I don't really follow a lot of stuff but team time trailling is something that I'm obsessed with. I'm not really an analytical person or someone who goes over details very often but when it comes to the team time trial, that is something that is an obsession of mine… and I can't say that I have many things like that in my life. For me, it's really fun to have something like that and to know that I can contribute to the team in that way."
After recovering from his injuries, he will turn his attention toward the Tour de France in July, and the 28km team time trial during stage 9 from Vannes to Plumelec. He will also look further down the calendar at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, in particular the elite men's team time trial on September 19. Tuft and his team are aiming to win that elusive world title.
"The upcoming team time trials this year are what’s keeping me motivated," Tuft said. "Obviously with the Tour it's hard to say because we have to see how everything heals up now, but that would for sure be my next big goal and something that I would really like to partake in.
"There is a good amount of time to get my head around Worlds. Trying to win the team time trial is everything to me. And Worlds will be pretty great being in America."