In many respects, Molly Weaver is just happy to be here, but she's also eager to get her season properly underway. The Sunweb rider was hospitalised with concussion and a broken sternum, vertebrae and collarbone after a car hit her during a training ride.
The crash happened before Weaver could even get a race under her belt this season and it would be May before she could turn a pedal in anger. Following two races last month, the British national road race on Sunday marks the beginning of a proper programme for the 23-year-old.
"It's a weird one for me because it's been a bit of a strange season," Weaver told Cyclingnews. "I don't know where I'm going to be but it's sort of one of those, I didn't even think I would be here, so I'm just happy about that."
Weaver had initially been down to ride the Women's Tour earlier in the month, but with such a tough parcours she and the team decided it was too much too soon. Her first major goal of this season will be the Giro Rosa, followed by La Course, but the national championships will be a chance to test her legs ahead of it. In an ideal world, a strong result at nationals would have been a big target for her.
While she holds some ambitions for the event, she has had to set the bar lower, knowing that she hadn't been able to prepare as she normally would. He training has been heavily concentrated into an intensive block, leaving her without some of the finer elements.
"It's actually kind of annoying this year. It's one of the best years for me for the course and I kind of wish it had been a worse course this year, and then I would feel a bit different about it," she explained. "I've done two races, and I can feel that I'm missing that top end. I haven't had time to build and peak in things like you normally would so I'm missing that little bit of acceleration or edge it the top end. I do have aims for the nationals, but I also have to be realistic in myself, and when it all kicks off, I have to stay at my own pace, especially I that big climb on that main lap."
Starting from scratch
Ahead of the season, Weaver says that her training numbers were some of the best she's ever had. She sensed that a special spring season was to come, but that dream was shattered by the crash. She spent two months in a back and neck brace and was so long off the bike that she lost all the form she had built up around the winter. It meant starting from scratch, which was tough as much mentally as it was physically.
"I'm not going to lie, it has been the hardest part of my career and probably my life," she said. "At first, you think about it too much because you're thinking 'I'm not dead or paralysed' and working like that. Then it does hit you. I've learned very quickly not to look back on it. You have to almost draw a line under it and forget everything that came before it and work day by day. Otherwise, I think you would spend the whole time depressed and mentally I don't think that you would be able to cope with it."
Weaver doesn't remember much of the crash, having been knocked out by the impact. The following days are hazy too, she doesn't remember one of her team members visiting, and she has no recollection of her father not being there, although he had to travel from England to visit. Head injuries are serious business, but there are benefits to having no recollection of it.
"We've actually joked about it since. "You should always hit your head hard enough to forget it." Because I'm 100 per cent glad I don't remember it. I've had no negative mental side from the impact," Weaver told Cyclingnews. "At first I was a bit nervous but … as soon as I got more relaxed on the bike and stronger in my upper body, it is like it never happened. It is a blessing. It can hold you back."
Weaver was right to suspect that something special was about to happen. The Sunweb team enjoyed a superb spring with Lucinda Brand winning their first race if the season at Het Nieuwsblad. Coryn Rivera added two WorldTour events with Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders, putting her in the competition leader's jersey for a while. More victories were to come, too. Weaver found it difficult to watch her teammates at first but was soon able to cheer them on.
"The first couple of races were really difficult," explained Weaver. "Het Nieuwsblad, Lucinda won it. I'd got out of hospital the day before that, so I was thinking I'm going to be fine. I said to my dad "I'm fine, I'm just supporting them. I don't mind I'm not supposed to be there, I wasn't supposed to race that race. I don't care." Then, actually, I cried the whole way through. You do care, as much as you pretend you don't.
"The first one I found it really difficult not to be a part of it. You feel like you're missing out and these experiences have been taken away from you. Then, I got to the point where I could be objective about stuff, and the emotion was out of me, and I could just be happy for my teammates."