Tara Whitten (The Cyclery-Opus) has made a strong statement in her comeback to professional cycling, and bid for the Rio Olympics, after recovering from a skull fracture sustained in a crash in March while previewing the road race and time trial courses for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. After nearly four months of recovery, she won the Canadian time trial title on Tuesday in Gatineau, Ottawa, by 49 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor Karol-Ann Canuel (Boels-Dolmans).
Whitten, a multiple-time gold medallist on the track at the World Championships, has made a career as a time trial specialist on the road and in the individual and team pursuit on the track, as well as in the omnium and points race. She also represented Canada at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she earned the bronze medal as part of the women's team pursuit squad. She was fourth in the time trial at the 2011 Road World Championships.
Whitten sustained a serious head injury while training in Rio de Janeiro in March. According to a report in the National Post, she crashed into the back of a bus the day before she was set to return home from her trip. Although her memory of the accident is vague, she recalled being on the ground for 10 minutes before getting back on her feet and attempting to ride her bike back to her hotel.
She didn't get medical treatment until returning home to Calgary, where medical scans showed a fracture at the base of her skull, where the skull joins with the top of the spine. She also sustained a concussion. According to the National Post report, doctors instructed Whitten to wear a neck brace for two or three months.
She continued riding on her trainer to train for time trials and the brace was eventually removed in mid-June, two weeks ahead of the Canadian Championships. She had some immediate success on the road, placing second to Amber Neben (Bepink) at the UCI Grand Prix Cycliste de Gatineau.
“I had this incredible support system,” she said in the report. “And I just had to take things day by day and just see what I could do.
“I was pretty nervous about having not raced this season and knowing that this is actually the only race that I would have before the Olympic selection. I didn’t know how much I could expect of myself. But the reason I came back to racing is that I love it. I thought, ‘I love racing on my bike, so I just have to go out and do what I can do.'”
She is hoping to gain a spot on the Canadian team for the Olympic Games, likely for both track and road races. That selection will be announced on Wednesday afternoon. Canada secured two spots for the time trial and three spots for the road race, in the women's road events. However, the two riders who race the time trial must also compete in the road race.