Steele von Hoff's victory in the Commonwealth Games road race, in an 11-man sprint, was Australia's 14th gold medal of the Games, but the result was made even more remarkable by the 30-year-old's rapid recovery from multiple fractured vertebrae sustained just two months earlier.
Von Hoff had just learned he was named in the Australian team for the Games back in February, when he headed out for what should have been a low-key, safe local criterium on Melbourne's Sandown Raceway. However, a lapped rider coming back on the wrong line during a surge in the pace led to a devastating crash that left him with four broken vertebrae.
Determined to represent his country on the Gold Coast, Von Hoff trained the only way he could - by laying down on a recumbent bike.
"I just wanted to get my legs spinning," Von Hoff told the Australian about getting on the bike six days after his crash.
"And then I thought, I have seven weeks until the Games so I'd better start training. I started doing double sessions on the ergo and started doing some work on a proper bike. I got lots of massages to get me back into good form."
Like his Australia teammate Mat Hayman, who broke his collarbone and trained on the stationary bike before winning Paris-Roubaix two years ago, Von Hoff pushed himself to maintain his fitness, even sneaking out on his mountain bike with a back brace on, two weeks after his injury. Eventually the brace came off, and he was given permission to race.
"The reason I was allowed to compete was because I was given the all-clear which meant that there were no more risks of further spinal trauma," Von Hoff said.
"I was so close to not making the cut, there were lots of people checking up on me and Cycling Australia checking up on me after my rehab, it was so good to have all that support."
Von Hoff insisted that, despite the injury, he came to the Gold Coast to be competitive.
"I didn't want to just rock up here able to race for the story, I wanted to rock up here in a position to win this gold," he said, according to The Herald.
The Australian team controlled the race, chasing down a late attack from New Zealand's Jack Bauer. A lead-out from time trial champion Cameron Meyer put Von Hoff into position to come around Jonathan Mould (Wales).
"About 150 metres to go when I came around Mouldy I thought I've actually got some pace here, I could win this," he said.
After his victory, Von Hoff could hardly believe he'd done it.
"I don't think I've absorbed it yet, but I will later on tonight."
This was Steele von Hoff a month ago, riding a mountain bike for the first time in a neck brace after breaking four vertebrae. Today he became Commonwealth Games champion with gold in the road race. One of the most incredible things I've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/TfgzHBsxqr
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