At the start of the season there was every reason to hope that 2021 would be the year that Sarah Gigante would have ample opportunity to deliver on the European stage with TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank. Then after first being sidelined by a nasty early season crash, yet still working her way back for the Olympic Games, she returned from Tokyo to be confronted with yet another challenge.
The 21-year-old rider – who is shifting from TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank to Movistar in 2022 – suffered severe chest pains and repeated hospitalisations. She was eventually diagnosed with myopericarditis, which is a combination of an inflammation of the heart muscle and pericardium, a sac surrounding the heart.
A recovering Gigante is now carefully riding again, having recently returned home to familiar training grounds in Australia which she is exploring on an electric bike.
"I am feeling so much better now but have to ease back into cycling slowly, just to be cautious,” said Gigante in a statement from TIBCO-SVB. “It is a bit frustrating, but I'm mainly very happy that I am on the road to recovery and looking forward to getting back out there in the new year.”
“Thanks again to Linda, Rachel (Hedderman), my teammates, sponsors and supporters, and everyone else at Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank for the last two years. It's not how I wanted to finish my time with the team, but it shows how supportive this team really is. I'll see you all out there at the races next year!"
Gigante signed with TIBCO-SVB at the start of the 2020 season, having burst out of the U19 ranks and straight into the jersey of Australia’s elite national road champion in 2019. Her aspirations to race in Europe with the team were also curtailed in her first season, with the rider getting just three race days on the continent as the COVID-19 pandemic led to severe restrictions on travel out of and into her home nation of Australia.
Things were looking up for 2021 when Gigante made the shift to Europe to chase a full season of racing. This time she managed to fit in six race days before her season was cut short, just as she was heading into the hilly races that played to her strengths. At La Flèche Wallonne Gigante suffered a horrible crash that left her with breaks to her collarbone, elbow and fibula.
Nevertheless, Gigante still managed to gain selection to represent Australia in the road race and time trial at the Olympic Games, having already proven her ability more than once to come out firing even when her opportunities to ride outside were limited. She went on to come 11th in the time trial at the Olympic Games, the first big international showing in the race against the clock for the two-time Australian champion in the discipline.
She was expected to return from Tokyo to settle back into a solid block of racing with US-based team, TIBCO-SVB, though again it was not to be as just days after finishing racing at the Olympic Games she became unwell.
"Sarah started experiencing severe chest pains in early August that had her hospitalized in Girona," team founder Linda Jackson said in a statement. "It was an incredibly scary time for Sarah, her family, her teammates, and all of those that know her."
The rider was in and out of hospital, far from home and family, and initially was not sure what was wrong.
"It's been a really rough few months since Tokyo - I would never have guessed that this would have happened to me," Gigante said. "It was not nice being alone in Spain when it all started, but I am a very lucky person in that I have the best support network ever.”
Gigante's brother and later her mother – who faced the challenge of Australia's pandemic border restrictions – flew over to be with her. The young rider also said she had teammate and housemate Kristen Faulkner with her once she came back from racing, along with other teammates checking in and valuable help from team friends in Dr. Frederick St Goar and Dr. Max Testa.
The Victorian then made it back to Australia in late October, just as Melbourne was coming out of an extended lockdown. It wasn’t long before she was back riding, with a little bit of help from an electric bike, on the well-worn training roads of the hilly outskirts of Melbourne and on the outdoor velodrome of the Brunswick Cycling Club.
"It will take some time for Gigante to get back to full-time training, but at this point, I am just delighted that Sarah is on the mend," TIBCO-SVB's Jackson said. "Heart conditions are always scary, and we were very concerned for her health. Sarah is an incredibly talented cyclist, and she is also a wonderful person. I am so happy to see her smiling again.”
“The cycling world has only seen the beginning of what Gigante has to offer. It's been a very frustrating two years for Sarah and the team, as we know what she has to offer the cycling world. We will miss her as she moves on to Movistar next year, but we will always take delight in seeing her results as she returns to her dominant form in the coming years. For me personally, I am hugely relieved that this youngster is on the mend and has a lifetime ahead of her."
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