'I retired three times in that period': Bernhard Eisel came close to giving up cycling after serious head injury

Austrian says he'll continue for another season of racing in 2019

Bernhard Eisel at the 2018 GP de Montréal (Luc Claessen/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Bernhard Eisel (Dimension Data) "could've retired" after brain surgery and with Mark Cavendish telling him to do so, but he is racing again with a new contract through 2019.

In April the Austrian underwent successful surgery to relieve a chronic subdural haematoma on his brain. The injury stemmed from a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico and only became fully diagnosed when he started complaining of headaches.

"I thought about retiring," the 37-year-old told Cycling Weekly as he prepared for China's WorldTour event, the Tour of Guangxi – his last race of 2018.

"I retired three times in that period. It was just a kind of depression you go through.

"Mine was a bit heavier than a concussion. It's a heavy impact that affects your whole body. You can imagine that is in the back of your head, it is there, something is wrong.

"I went though a tough period. I was at home, feeling useless, everything was stressed and it was tough. But then you get through, you go out there and put your helmet on."

Bernie Eisel congratulates Mark Cavendish after he won stage three of the 2018 Dubai Tour. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

Eisel put in his team's two-way radio ear-piece ahead of the second stage, departing from Beihai in the south of China. Arriving here, he travelled a bumpy road.

Instead of leading out Mark Cavendish, he remained in Austria. First he dealt with his immediate injuries from Tirreno-Adriatico and then headaches and subsquent brain surgery.

South African WorldTour team Dimension Data supported Eisel and his decision to return to racing. His professional career began in 2001 and includes a Ghent-Wevelgem victory, leading out Cavendish in sprints and helping Bradley Wiggins win the Tour de France. On July 27, in the GP Cerami, he pinned on a race number again.

"Mark [Cavendish] was definitely one of the guys who settled me down. He more cared about what I needed to do. He said, 'Don't take the risk, you better retire.' He even asked me when I was back, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'" Eisel added.

"I could live without cycling, but I enjoy it too much. At the same time, it's too difficult to leave. It's simple: I know what I can do, it's an easy sport for me. I can repeat it, at least for one or two years."

Eisel could not say with which team, but he explained he will ride for one more year though 2019. He will likely ride for Dimension Data, who announced Mark Renshaw's renewal recently and is expected to do the same for Cavendish any day.

"It feels great to be riding. When I got the OK from the doctor, he said it was 100 per cent perfect. It changed everything, freedom just to be out riding again. The best part of it was having three to five months off. I enjoyed riding my bike again. I really found the enjoyment of riding," explained Eisel.

"If I had two hours on the schedule, I came home with three and a half, but normally before when I had three hours, I'd come home with two and a half and say, 'I'm done with it.' I'm really enjoying being in China, too.

"I had a pretty good career. I came to the point where I achieved my goals. I am happy with it, now I enjoy being around and doing the best I can with everyone. It hasn't changed."

Eisel will again be asked in 2019 to help Cavendish, who has been is dealing with Epstein-Barr virus since the Tour de France. His race plans for 2019 remain unknown though he has begun training on his bike again.

"I'm 100 per cent convinced he can get back to the way he was," Eisel added.

"In all those teams with him or without him, I've seen all those articles where people say, 'He's done.' And he always comes back! I'm 100 per cent convinced he can comeback."

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.