Jonny Bellis returned to racing today just nine months after cheating death in a motor scooter accident. The 21-year-old Saxo Bank pro took to the start line in the Isle of Man Road Race championships as he continued his remarkable recovery from the accident which left him in a coma for a month.
The 62-mile race took in some tough climbs before finishing with six laps of an undulating circuit around the village of Braaid, the Manxman may have finished last in the A race, and 20 minutes behind Team Manx Telecom rider and race winner Tom Black, but this was a remarkable performance given the life and death struggles Bellis has faced in the past few months.
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The bronze medallist in the 2007 under-23 worlds road race left hospital in February and at Christmas was so weak due to muscle loss that he could not walk unaided.
Yet here he was today showing that he is well and truly back on the road to recovery. He has been on the bike for three months now, including a recent spell training in Monaco under the direction of coach Brad McGee, but Bellis was keen to start racing as soon as he could.
“It wasn’t exactly a shock to the system, but the race today was a reminder to me of how racing feels again,” he said.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get a result today so I wasn’t nervous about racing. I found it difficult to get used to the stop/start rhythm of a race when there is a lull in the bunch and then someone attacks and the speed goes up. I’m lacking that ability to jump when there is a change of pace but that will come back with more racing.”
Bellis made sure he completed the full distance even though he could have stopped a lap early after being passed by the race winner. “It would have been easy to stop with a lap to go but I’m only going to keep progressing if I keep riding so I decided to push on. Considering where I was nine months ago I was just pleased to be back racing.”
There was no shortage of well wishers around the course glad to see him back on the bike, and it’s support that Bellis always appreciates. “Even though I was off the back on my own there were people shouting encouragement,” he said.
Bellis may have a way to go yet before he regains the fitness that saw him selected for the 2008 Olympic road race at the age of just 19. But today was another milestone in his pursuit of that goal, and he can be sure of plenty more well wishers cheering his remarkable recovery which continues next weekend at the British national road race championships.