It was February 2019, and a decent cyclocross season had boosted my confidence for the road season ahead. With a new bike and new coach, I was aiming to gain my second-cat licence while also targeting the BC National Masters road race and circuit champs. My fitness was good, my weight was where it needed to be, and I was in Majorca to ramp up my training. But halfway down a descent, I found myself lying in the road looking at the sky.
I still don’t know what happened. My first instinct was to get out of danger, so I went to stand up – and literally couldn’t. Pain like I’ve never felt.
Fortunately, a motorist came along and called an ambulance. Later, my Wahoo Elemnt would tell me that I’d hit the road at 25kph. The impact, the doctor told me, had snapped the end clean off my femur. They operated and inserted three screws in my leg. At 53, I was ‘too young’ for a hip replacement – though it was physiologically warranted. As it was, with a bolted-together ball joint, my comeback would take far longer. Two weeks after getting home to Surrey, I was still in a wheelchair wondering whether I’d ever ride a bike again – but something deep inside me told me I would. Even though I’d heard it said, in relation to Chris Froome, that “no one comes back from a broken femur”, I was set on being the exception.
I was signed off work (as a product director in IT) for three months, and would be on crutches until the bone had knitted back together. The danger with this kind of break is that the blood doesn’t start to flow again back into the joint and the ball-end crumbles. I was determined not to let that happen, so I did physio exercises three times a day. Three months after the accident, I was able to get on the bike again – turbo only, 30 minutes at a time, and initially I was in tears, hardly able to turn the pedals. But it felt great to be back in action.
Thirty minutes became 60, then two hours. And then, one sunny day in August 2019, I went for a ride outside, on my mountain bike, with flat pedals, for five miles. Tears of joy. The sense of freedom of seeing a way back to full fitness was incredible.
I gradually increased the mileage outdoors, the intensity of turbo sessions, and squeezed in two end-of-season road races at Hillingdon. Terrified of re-injuring the leg, I wore rugby pads under my cycling shorts, was nervous in every bend, and got dropped about halfway through. A couple of weeks later, I clung on to the finish – what a feeling! It reminded me how I’d felt finishing my first-ever road race as a teenager.
Then came another setback. One day, I went to run for a train and realised I couldn’t. My left leg wouldn’t leave the ground. It turned out one of the screws was protruding from the bone by around 8mm, snagging the muscle. Physio Rob Marlow devised a series of exercises that helped strengthen the muscles affected. After a while, I could climb stairs, two at a time, and jog slowly. I still felt I’d never get back to where I was before. But I was still as determined as ever.
If I was going to achieve my aim of a top 10, I would need more help – so I contacted five-time national champion Ian Field. He drew up a bespoke plan to help me build fitness and strength, and to improve my bike handling. I still had the screws in my leg, still couldn’t properly mount and dismount the bike, and still had a huge left-right leg power imbalance.
In my first season back cyclo-cross racing, I achieved a handful of top-20 places. It was frustrating – I felt I had done everything I could but still couldn’t ‘get it all out’ on race day. Finally, last March, amid the terrible news globally, a glimmer of good news for me: after 12 months, my surgeon was happy with how my leg had healed and was able to remove the screws. I was told not to ride outside for three months, as there were now three big holes in my leg that needed to heal. Back to the turbo, back to 30-minute rides, and to a revised plan from Ian… and eventually back to race fitness. Now I could run, even up stairs. The sense of relief was overwhelming.
And then in November, the moment I had worked so hard for: at a Wessex League cyclo-cross race, I crossed the line in ninth – my goal achieved. Elation!
I had proved it – you can come back from a broken femur, even in your 50s.
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.